The Obama administration announced Thursday that it had definitively determined that the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons against its own people. As a result, the administration plans to amplify its involvement in the more than two-year old civil war.
The nerve agent sarin was among the weapons used by Assad's government, and an estimated 100 to 150 people have been killed by chemical weapons. President Barack Obama had previously stated that the verified use of chemical weapons was a "red line" for more involvement in the conflict, but the United States has hesitated to offer more tangible support. The administration is wary of becoming entangled in yet another overseas war similar to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the intelligence community determined chemical weapons had been used against anti-Assad forces "on a small scale." But he declined to provide specifics to the administration's plan of action as a result of the findings.
"We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline," he said. "Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity."
Those pushing for more direct involvement in Syria have criticized Obama's reservation at becoming involved.
A statement released by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that the number of other foreign players – among them Iran, Iraq and Russia – in the conflict indicate that the United States can no longer sit back and watch it play out. They said they agree with Obama that the use of chemical weapons must change U.S. policy towards Syria, but that that change cannot be limited to supplying weapons:
A decision to provide lethal assistance, especially ammunition and heavy weapons, to opposition forces in Syria is long overdue, and we hope the President will take this urgently needed step. But providing arms alone is not sufficient. That alone is not enough to change the military balance of power on the ground against Assad. The President must rally an international coalition to take military actions to degrade Assad's ability to use airpower and ballistic missiles and to move and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air. This can be done, as we have said many times, using stand-off weapons such as cruise missiles.
The Syrian conflict began in March of 2011, and the Offce of the United Nations High Comissioner estimates that nearly 93,000 people have been killed since it began.
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