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Editorial: U.S. should still stay out of Syria

A Free Syrian Army fighter points his weapon

A Free Syrian Army fighter points his weapon as he watches a Syrian Army jet in Fafeen village, north of Aleppo province, Syria. (Dec. 11, 2012) Credit: AP

Evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his people -- crossing President Barack Obama's "red line" -- has put pressure on the United States to do something. Obama should resist the calls to send in the military.

What's happening in Syria is tragic. More than 70,000 people have died in two years of fighting and more blood is sure to flow. But the United States can't right all the world's wrongs, and in Syria there's no clear way to improve the situation.

Putting troops on the ground would embroil the United States in another foreign war, something the public has no stomach for after a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even those in Congress calling for action have almost unanimously rejected that option.

Another possibility is arming the Syrian rebels -- but which ones? And there's no shortage of weapons reaching them, including some reportedly covertly supplied by the United States.

The United States could establish and enforce a no-fly zone inside Syria to protect civilians from attacks by their government. But that would inject the U.S. military into the war on the side of rebels whose ranks include radical Islamists, some affiliated with al-Qaida.

Obama has made it clear he wants Assad to relinquish power. And a deal securing his chemical weapons would be in our national interest. But as vicious as Assad's regime has become, once he's toppled, things could get worse. Syria could collapse into a lawless, failed state, or install a government in league with international terrorists.

Syria is in the midst of a civil war as its people fight to determine their future. If anyone there uses chemical weapons on a massive scale, Obama should reconsider multinational military intervention. But he shouldn't act rashly now based on uncorroborated evidence of a limited breach of his red line.