WASHINGTON — U.S. officials on Sunday called Syria’s decision to allow a United Nations team to investigate the site of a purported chemical attack “too late to be credible,” signaling that the Obama administration was leaning toward a military intervention in the two-year-old civil war.
But any strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime would occur over the misgivings of a majority of Americans, according to a new poll, and with only limited support from Congress. The fallout from such action includes likely retaliation from Iran, Russia and the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah — Assad’s three chief foreign patrons — and could draw the United States deeply into a new Middle East conflict after years of entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, many foreign policy analysts argue that after more than two years and a death toll exceeding 100,000, President Barack Obama has a moral imperative to step in now because of the escalation from the regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons in defiance of his warning that such warfare was a “red line.”
Statements from the administration over the weekend suggest that Obama’s extreme reluctance to wade into the crisis was easing, though there were no details yet on a course of action as U.S. officials continued consultations with European and Arab allies.
Obama appeared to be shoring up international support for action, speaking with his second ally in two days, French President Francois Hollande. The White House said the two discussed “possible responses by the international community” and agreed to stay in touch.
At a news conference Sunday in Malaysia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated that he’d prepared “options for all contingencies” at Obama’s request.
“We are prepared to exercise whatever option if he decides to employ one of those options,” Hagel said.