Authority to act

Authority to act

President Obama, who is properly ready to take military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people, is seeking  congressional approval for the strike.

That’s a wise move given the public’s views on this subject.

We are mindful that a majority of Americans oppose a strike, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey. We, too, have deep reservations about how this drama will play out.

Nevertheless, Congress, which is divided over the question, should not tie the president’s hands. He should be given the authority to act against Assad.

This is no time for the country to be divided.

We take no joy in this position, but there are no good options here. Either we punish Assad for crossing a clearly marked red line, or we do nothing and risk losing our credibility abroad, which we’ll need if things get worse in Syria.

And they will get worse.       

Listening to Secretary of State John Kerry testify on Capitol Hill Tuesday, it is clear the president is prepared to take sides in this long-running civil war, and to make a convincing case to Congress that the Assad regime callously released sarin, a toxic nerve agent, which killed more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs, including children.

Kerry previously said that traces of sarin have been discovered in the blood and hair samples of emergency workers sent to that area. It’s hard to believe Syrian insurgents would have the capability — or desire — to launch that kind of attack.    

“He [the president] has committed to help the opposition. And he has stated unequivocally that Assad has lost all legitimacy and cannot conceivably continue to govern ultimately in Syria,” Kerry said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”  

It’s an honorable motive, coming to the aid of actual victims of gas attacks  — the Syrian people. But this is just as much about preserving our own national credibility.

(By the way, that credibility is essential as the president continues to grapple with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.)  

No one should be under the illusion that we can destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal with air strikes. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Carol J. Williams reported there are as many as 50 storage sites in Syria, mostly in urban areas, and protected by strong ground-to-air defense systems.

Additionally, if we strike, Assad has two hostage cards to play in this drama. He can again retaliate against his own people, or he can hit Israel, possibly provoking a reprisal from the Jewish state, which he can then use to whip up anti-Israel, anti-American sentiment across the region. That would risk an even wider conflict.

However, if we don’t strike, an emboldened Assad may continue his chemical attacks, and he may still direct his nerve agents at Israel’s border, thinking it a fine way to shore up his support from Iran and other allies. The war could still escalate.

That’s what we mean when we say things will most assuredly get worse in Syria. Better to act now than later.

We believe Kerry means it when he says there will be no “boots on the ground.”  Indeed, the draft resolution approved by leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday night approves only limited action.

Still, even if “boots” are possible, it’s a risk we must take. The situation in Syria is worsening. Innocent Syrians are being gassed and the reputation of the United States is on the line. The president must be given the authority to act.