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September 17, 2013

EDITORIALS: Strikes averted, for now / Open letter to Vladimir Putin

Agreement averts strike on Syria, at least for now

(The New Castle News, New Castle, Pa.)

All things considered, we’re glad the United States is taking no direct military action in Syria.

At least not yet. Officials in the Obama administration warned that an agreement forged with Russia over the status of Syria’s chemical weapons is only as good as the actions of Bashar Assad’s regime. The threat of future military moves remain on the table if Syria does not comply.

What to do about Syria in the wake of a confirmed sarin gas attack on civilians poses a problem for the international community. We have held that doing nothing poses risks of its own in terms of encouraging future attacks by Syria and other nations.

But the Obama administration faced a variety of hurdles in its call for military action against Syria. While some of this opposition may have been politically motivated, a very legitimate and practical question loomed over the administration’s efforts: What, precisely, would be accomplished by a strike on Syria? With the administration saying the intent was not to remove Assad or turn the tide of Syria’s civil war, and the ongoing debate giving the regime time to hide potential targets, it was difficult to define the goal of such a mission.

President Obama is now drawing criticism from several factions, accusing him of looking weak and disorganized in his handling of Syria. No doubt some of this criticism is warranted. But we suspect the Russian proposal — quickly accepted by Syria — to have chemical weapons removed from that country was a result of Obama’s threat of military action.

Perhaps the president achieved a strategic victory of sorts without engaging America’s military.

None of this, of course, does much to resolve Syria’s future. It remains unclear whether the Assad regime will survive the ongoing civil war. Waiting to be addressed is how the world will deal with Assad if it’s formally determined his government gassed its own people.

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