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Obama in a hard place over Syria

Herb Boyd | 9/5/2013, 11:55 a.m. | Updated on 9/5/2013, 11:55 a.m.

President Barack Obama appears to be on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to Syria—a damned if you do and damned if you don’t proposition.

To hear his critics, he’s responsible for painting himself into a corner with his promise of action if the Syrian government crossed the red line of using chemical weapons against its own people. That line apparently was crossed on Aug. 21, when more than 1,400 people perished, including some 400 children, from sarin gas, according to the U.S. government.

On Wednesday, during a four-day trip to Sweden and Russia to attend a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Obama said that the red line regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons was the consequence of international treaties and past congressional action, and that it is time for the international community to make good on its opposition to the banned armaments.

“I didn’t set a red line,” he told reporters. “The world set a red line.”

When Obama’s line was to some extent breached months ago, the president said there was not enough conclusive evidence that the chemical attacks were launched by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Doubt about who initiated the chemical attacks, whether the government or the rebels, was sufficient reason to withhold commitment. But now, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, there is enough proof that the Assad government is the culprit and it’s time the United States takes limited action.

“Are you going to be comfortable if Assad, as a result of the United States not doing anything, then gasses his people yet again?” Kerry asked members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Tuesday. “It’s a guarantee, if the United States doesn’t act together with other countries, we know what Assad will do. That’s a guarantee. I can’t tell you what’s guaranteed that some country will do if we do act, but I know what will happen if we don’t.”

Much of Kerry’s response was directed at Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was among the Republicans taking a noninterventionist position. On Wednesday, a vote is expected from the committee on whether it will endorse the president’s “shot across the bow” measure of a 90-day period of attacks with a possible extra 30 days if necessary. The resolution would prohibit the deployment of U.S. troops.

In a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, participants were asked if they supported or opposed the U.S. launching missile strikes against the Syrian government. Fifty-six percent were opposed, while 36 percent supported the action. A majority was opposed to intervention even if allies were involved, and an even larger percentage was in opposition of arming the Syrian rebels.

Rep. Charles Rangel said he would vote no on getting involved in Syria “because there are many questions even if the draft was not instated,” he said during an interview. “Is this a war? If it’s not a war and it’s a limited war, I’ve never heard of that in my entire life. If you’re going to bomb a community, that’s war. And you have to have a declaration of war that Congress should legally, constitutionally approve it, and I haven’t seen that evidence.”