RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SANA" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with Moscow's Channel One television in Damascus on October 30, 2011 where he said that he expected continued support from Moscow, less than month after President Dmitry Medvedev told the Syrian strongman for the first time to either accept political reform or bow to calls for his resignation. AFP PHOTO/HO-SANA (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\506904538.jpg
Updated: May 29, 2013 7:02AM
An essential piece of the Syrian chemical weapons puzzle fell into place Thursday.
The White House for the first time said the Syrian government has likely used chemical weapons against rebel forces, joining Israel, France and Great Britain in asserting evidence of the use of such weapons.
But the White House refused to take a next step — possibly military action — despite President Barack Obama’s threat last summer of unspecified action were the “red line” of chemical weapons use crossed.
The White House said it still needed “credible and corroborated facts” before choosing a course of action. The U.S. is joining its European allies in pressing for a sweeping United Nations investigation of possible use of sarin gas as a weapon in Syria’s two-year-old civil war.
This is not a cop-out. Though deeply frustrating, as Syria’s president continues his deadly assault on his own people, caution is the only right course.
Look no further than Iraq, where the U.S. launched an invasion based on erroneous intelligence about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The U.S.’ endgame in Syria is also not at all clear. Ridding Syria of President Bashar al-Assad may be the goal, but backing Syrian rebels, which include radical Islamists, may not be the way to go. The U.S. also needs time to build a strong international coalition for any action in Syria.
But interminable delays won’t do. U.N. inspectors have not been allowed into Syria, and that investigation does not cover who used the weapons, only trying to affirm their use at all, according to the New York Times. Also, setting a red line and then failing to act undercuts U.S. power and credibility.
We urge caution, all the while knowing the risks. Chemical weapons are among the most noxious that exist, and history is littered with examples of the deadly consequences of excessive and unwise caution.
But in Syria, we must wait.