Give Syria a chance, but don’t forget the ‘big stick’

The prospect of war has a way of encouraging the bipartisanship that so many Americans say they want to see in Washington. So it has been regarding President Barack Obama’s request that Congress approve military action against Syria.

Both Democrats and Republicans are among thoughtful lawmakers not inclined to start a war if it can be avoided. Even Reps. Tim Walz and Michele Bachmann find themselves on the same side, opposing a military strike in Syria.

Now there is an opportunity to avoid it. Syria may agree to scrap its chemical weapons, it was reported this week. Under the proposal, Syria would disclose its chemical armaments and turn them over to the Russian government for disposal.

That would dovetail nicely with a proposed Senate resolution co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. In effect, their resolution gives Syria 45 days to destroy its chemical weapons and facilities. Senators of both parties should approve the resolution – because it is a chance to avoid war – but they cannot forget the “big stick” that is pressuring Syria to take this action, the kind of threat held in reserve that Teddy Roosevelt talked about when he said “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

It is obvious that the solution, which is being brokered by the Russian government, only stands a chance if there is a big “or else” – the threat of a military strike that President Obama is holding over President Bashar Al-Assad’s head. Why else would Syria agree to it? And if they agree to it, why should they follow through on it unless there is a credible threat of U.S. Tomahawk missiles and stealth bombers in the offing?

It is a conundrum, to be sure, but it may be that our nation’s best chance of avoiding military involvement in Syria in this case is to promise to take military action, if Syria doesn’t comply with this last chance.

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