Qaddafi was killed, as were four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the following year. Libya is still searching for stability.
Obama could begin rallying support for a similar international effort, led in the early stages by the United States. Such a move would remove the politically fraught decision to send U.S. ground forces into harm’s way, but assert, even at this late stage of Syria’s civil war, a potentially decisive American effort on behalf of the Syrian opposition.
That might be the farthest Obama chooses to go, if he even goes that far. What continues to complicate the administration’s policy in part is the nature of Syria’s armed opposition, specifically how much of it may be animated by radical Islamist doctrine and anti-American and Israeli fervor.
Those considerations have led Obama to move more cautiously than some American allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are supplying lethal aid to the rebels. Obama recently decided to double the amount of U.S. humanitarian aid to Syria. But he has stopped short so far of sending non-lethal battlefield support such as body armor, night-vision goggles, and armored vehicles, something the rebels want.
In its letter to Congress, the administration stated Thursday that “we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime.” The assessment exonerates the rebels from Assad’s charges that, if such weapons are used, it would be the opposition using them. Assad still holds the key to the arsenal, as Rodriguez pointed out.
Short of building consensus for international intervention, Obama could act unilaterally in a limited capacity, such as using ship-fired missiles to destroy runways used by Syrian military aircraft against rebels and civilians alike. Humans rights groups have advocated such action in recent months given Obama’s unwillingness to implement a no-fly zone over Syria.
Finally, Obama could begin working through the Friends of Syria, which includes Arab states and Turkey, to provide U.S. military aid to the Free Syrian Army, as the coalition of rebel forces is called. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who on Thursday received one of the Rodriguez letters, has called on Obama to begin supplying such lethal aid for months.
The politics facing Obama at home regarding Syria appear to change when the use of chemical weapons comes into play.
A Washington Post-ABC poll conducted in December, when chemical weapons allegations first surfaced, found that nearly three-quarters of respondents said the U.S. military should not get involved in Syria’s civil war. Only 17 percent said it should.
But support for U.S. military intervention shot up to 63 percent if the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people. The poll also found wide support for creating a no-fly zone.
“I am deeply concerned with reports that further confirmation of use may be outsourced to the United Nations,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “If Assad sees any equivocation on the red line, it will embolden his regime.
“After two years of brutal conflict, it’s past time for the President to have a robust conversation with the Congress and the American people about how best to bring Assad’s tyranny to an end,” Boehner added.
Scott Clement, survey research analyst for Capitol Insight, the Post’s independent polling arm, contributed to this report.
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