Taking Syria Strike to Congress Buys Obama Time to Find Non-military Solution

United States President Barack Obama did the right thing in announcing a “conditional operation” against Syria. He made it clear that the forces are ready and targets marked, while gaining time to put together a nonmilitary solution to the crisis. The diplomatic skills of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate will get a workout at this week’s G-20 summit in St. Petersburg: Can Obama rope in Russian President Vladimir Putin for an arrangement that will enhance Middle East stability? If Obama tries, and fails, he will gain legitimacy for military action.

The delay was crucial: Obama needs domestic and international support for a controversial operation with unclear strategic aims. Now he has time to obtain that support and define the goals.

In Israel, Obama’s hesitation has been depicted as signs of weakness and a lack of leadership; the political and military leadership, together with most local media outlets, urged him to strike already. The famous line from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” – “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk” – was quoted, usually inaccurately, ad nauseum. Too bad these spaghetti western fans missed the overwhelmingly antiwar message of the movie.

Successful wars require thorough political and diplomatic preparation. Even in Israel – which is so fond of the quick draw, the instant reaction to every terror attack or threat – patience has always paid off for the leaders who used it. People laughed at Ariel Sharon when he said “Restraint is power,” but it was his avoidance of harsh reactions to terror attacks early in his term as prime minister that enabled him to carry out Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002, effectively putting down the second intifada while enjoying domestic and international support.

His successor, Ehud Olmert, did not learn from him, and four years later he launched the Second Lebanon War on a rash decision. He was dragged into a drawn-out, failed operation, lost public support and had to be bailed out by America.

Obama should aim for a solution in Syria similar to UN Security Council Resolution 687, which ended the 1991 Gulf War: Bashar Assad will remain in power, in exchange for the removal from Syria of chemical weapons and long-range missiles. And the U.S. president must also sell the deal to Putin, which will not be easy.

President Barack Obama gestures during his address to the nation about Syria on Saturday.Credit: AP

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