Syria: A ‘Red Line’ Obama Shouldn’t Cross

Why his legacy will hinge on battles closer to home and would be hurt by another military morass.

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That burden will become still heavier if we embark on yet another bloody foreign adventure financed by borrowing from overseas, especially China. Wading into Syria would leave us even more at the financial mercy of our greatest rival.

Doubtless, these concerns are on Obama’s mind as he weighs the U.S. response to the crisis, which deepened considerably last week with Israeli airstrikes on targets near Damascus. And he must know that despite the yowling from critics that the U.S. should consider such steps as providing weapons and training to rebel forces or imposing a no-fly zone, there is no political upside to escalating American involvement in this mess.

Those opposed to the president are so bitter and entrenched that they will attack him no matter what step he takes — even if he does what they suggest. That’s why the strong position he appeared to occupy in the immediate aftermath of his re-election has deteriorated so rapidly that to many, he looks like a lame duck fewer than 100 days into his second term.

President Obama has only one way out of this morass: avoid being drawn into another crippling foreign conflict, while working diligently on the country’s domestic needs. That, in turn, will require his best efforts to replace the recalcitrant Republican majority in the House of Representatives with a Congress whose chief priority is governing instead of reflexively thwarting his every design, from modest gun control to budgetary reform.

He has spent much of his time in office extricating us from the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. He ought to be remembered for binding up the nation’s wounds and putting its people back to work, not immersing us in a costly and inconclusive mess.

Jack White, a former columnist for Time magazine, is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va., and a contributing editor at The Root.