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Editorial: Barack Obama must make the case for U.S. involvement in Syria

President Barack Obama meets with members of Congress

President Barack Obama meets with members of Congress in the White House. (Sept. 3, 2013) Credit: Getty Images / Pool

Now that Congress has been brought into the debate about Syria, a U.S. led airstrike that appeared imminent last week is no longer inevitable despite the administration's determined push to avenge the use of chemical weapons.

Consulting Congress was the right thing for President Barack Obama to do. He has to convince a war-wary public that a surgical attack in Syria is the best course. Getting Congress on board is critical. But any congressional authorization for the use of force should be drawn narrowly, as Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) is working to ensure, so that the nation won't be sucked deeper into Syria's civil war.

There is little doubt that Syrian President Bashar Assad crossed Obama's "red line" by using poison gas against his people. The credibility of the United States will be eroded if Congress does nothing to hold him accountable. But that's not reason enough for military action.

Administration officials briefing members of Congress say a precise air attack could degrade Assad's chemical weapons capacity, and that it's in our security interest to make sure those weapons won't be turned on other nations or fall into the wrong hands, such as those of Hezbollah terrorists. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told senators yesterday that if unanswered, Syria's use of poison gas could embolden others, like North Korea, to use unconventional weapons, and encourage other governments to acquire them. The administration insists international law prohibiting the use of chemical weapons must be enforced.

But only three other nations have committed military hardware. The administration needs to assemble a broader international coalition before Congress votes on authorization next week.

There is no clear win for the United States in Syria, where militant Islamists, in league with terrorists, are battling a brutal despot also in league with terrorists. Obama needs to make a compelling case for getting involved at all.

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