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Obama's post-election Syria policy is unlikely to change, but it should

Obama’s policy of 'staying the course' in Syria should be weighed against worsening strategic realities in the country and region. Only a careful military program to help the rebels, including arming and training them, can stem the growing costs of US inaction.

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Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton leave meetings in Perth, Australia, Nov. 14. Ms. Clinton called the formation of a new opposition coalition in Syria an important step, but stopped short of offering full recognition or arms. Op-ed contributor Bilal Y. Saab asks: 'At what point do the costs of deteriorating conditions in Syria become intolerable for the US and force a shift in the Obama administration’s policy?'

Saul Loeb/Reuters

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Before the election, several domestic factors and strategic concerns constrained President Obama’s action on the Syria crisis. Fears that missteps (really, any steps) would become political fodder for Republicans and the feelings of war-weary voters conspired against a more forceful US strategy for Syria.

Now that Mr. Obama has won reelection, his administration will have fewer worries about the domestic political consequences of foreign policy decisions in his second term. But the strategic concerns about foreign intervention in Syria remain. Obama is not likely to suddenly overhaul his Syria policy, but he should.

Obama’s policy of “staying the course” or “kicking the can down the road” on Syria should ultimately be weighed against worsening strategic realities in the country and the region. Only a careful military program to help the rebels, including arming and training them, can stem the growing costs of US inaction.

The Obama administration’s cautious and pragmatic foreign policy, anchored in the president’s personality and governing style, is likely to continue, especially in Washington’s approach to Syria. Obama was and still is genuinely concerned that, in an already combustible Middle East, a US military operation against Syria, no matter how surgical, would spiral out of control and cause a widespread conflagration that would involve Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

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