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Editorial: The U.S. and Syria

What kind of involvement — if any — should the United States have when it comes to increasingly bloody Syria? There are many opinions being expressed, but most agree that any approach leads to outcomes that are messy and will not quickly end the bloodshed.

As it is certain that many more people will die, it is also certain that whatever steps the U.S. takes is bound to create as many enemies as friends in the region, and are not certain to provide a solution to the violence. The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, his supporters — including Iran and Hezbollah — and various rebel groups fighting to be the survivor, the one in control, form an incredibly twisted Gordian Knot of potential problems.

Even the best of intentions is not likely to prevent some situation in which Syrian civilians are killed and injured and the U.S. is seen as the culprit to blame.

Even a course where the U.S. doesn’t get involved beyond a diplomatic role is fraught with danger. Russia and China are two of the more powerful allies of the Assad regime. Both have blocked steps of taking a tough stance with Syria by the United Nations.

Meanwhile, in roughly two years since opposition protests against the Assad dictatorship ignited, the United Nations estimates 93,000 people, mostly civilians, have died. Meanwhile as the fighting rages on, Syrians numbering more than 1 million have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Kurdistan and Iraq.

At what point does the death toll become unacceptable from a humanitarian viewpoint? Are we willing to roll the dice that a massacre of hundreds of innocents isn’t part of an equation as one side or the other gets desperate?

Perhaps we’ve already reached that point.

Last week, the White House announced that Assad had indeed used chemical weapons in his fight to survive. “Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information.”

That has prompted the Obama administration to say that the U.S. will now provide lethal aid to the rebels, many of whom can’t be classified as our friends. We’ve done this before: supplying Afghanistan’s warlords with weapons in their fight against the Soviet Union’s forces. This seemingly made sense until some of those very same weapons were turned against our own troops in the decade or so that the U.S. has been in Afghanistan.

We cannot, nor should we be, the world’s policemen, trying to impose our will on nations and cultures that do not share our thinking. But as a nation that is a guiding light for compassion and freedom, we should not sit idly by as innocent civilians are slaughtered.

This is a grim situation no matter what kind of role the U.S. assumes here and we must be ready to accept the consequences.

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