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Published September 11 2013

Forum editorial: For now, best option in Syria

There are members of Congress, particularly in the House, who would find fault with President Barack Obama if he said the sun rises in the east. That’s been the flavor of some of the reactions to the president’s Tuesday night address to the nation on the situation in Syria. It should be dismissed as petty partisan prattle that has contributed to gridlock in Washington and has damaged the nation’s influence overseas.

Most Americans will factor out the political noise because, whether they are fans of this president or not, they want U.S. foreign policy to succeed. It is in the interest of the nation that it does. In that regard, the president acknowledged the deep concerns of Congress and the American people in asking Congress to delay a vote authorizing use of military force against Syria’s Bashar Assad regime. Assad violated international protocols by using poison gas on his population. The president did not take the military option off the table (a Navy fleet is cruising in the eastern Mediterranean), but said new openings on the diplomatic front will be exploited.

Russia, apparently believing the president was quite serious about a surgical hit on Syrian targets, changed its tone. The Russians offered to broker a deal with its ally, Syria, by which Assad would join a chemical weapons treaty, open his country to thorough and verifiable inspections, and turn over control of chemical weapons stocks to the Russians. It’s a tall order that will require repairing the battered relationship between the U.S. and Russia. It also will demand that Assad be fully on board with losing control of his chemical weapons stockpile, one of the largest in the world.

Not everyone in Congress is satisfied. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., immediately criticized the president for backing off a military strike. They apparently want to carpet-bomb Syria back to the stone age, a sentiment that suggests voters were right when they did not elect McCain president in 2008.

The president has few options, none of them perfect or without risk. It’s the nature of foreign policy that aims to punish outlaw regimes. And the moral question is unresolved: Does Assad go unpunished for committing a horrific crime?

The delay is not an ideal long-term solution, but it offers the U.S., its allies and a newly engaged Russia opportunity to contain Syrian chemical weapons without unpredictable fallout from a military strike. At this point in this dangerous saga, the U.S. is acting prudently.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.