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Dunsmore: Syrian Game Changer

President Barack Obama did warn Syrian President BasharAssad some time ago, that if he used chemical weapons in his efforts to put down the now two year Syrian revolt, he would cross a "red line" which would be a "game changer." Now there appears to be evidence that the deadly gas serin, which is a weapon of mass destruction, has been used at least on a small scale, and most likely by Assad's soldiers.

So what happens next?

For hawkish Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, who since the onset of the Syrian rebellion have been calling for much more aggressive American support of the rebels, President Obama now has no choice but to do what they have been calling for - namely - to set up no fly zones to protect the rebels and millions of Syria civilians from the wrath of the Syrian air force - and to start arming the rebels with anti aircraft and anti tank missiles. Among other things they argue, the president's own and America's credibility is at stake and the future behavior of enemies from Iran to North Korea will depend on what he decides to do in Syria, now.

However, it appears the president's first consideration is that since his predecessor took America to war in Iraq over what turned out to be non existent weapons of mass destruction, he needs more solid evidence that serin gas was actually used and by whom. As the United Nations is the body to collect that evidence and the Syrians won’t give the U.N. inspectors free access, that issue may not be quickly resolved.

Setting up no-fly zones would first require destroying Syria’s sophisticated air defense systems, which are often located in large population centers. But arming selected rebels with lethal weapons, which the president has been hesitant to do because some of the dominant fighters are known Islamic extremists, is now under serious consideration according to a White House leak Tuesday.

Yet I believe President Obama’s caution is mostly motivated by his conviction that after more than a decade of two wars with horrendous human and financial costs and no evident benefits, the last thing most Americans want is another Middle East War.

If Obama is looking for historical precedent to stay out of unpopular wars he need only look back to President Franklin Roosevelt. Throughout 1940 and 41, with virtually all of Europe occupied by German storm troopers, tens of thousands of British civilians killed in the Luftwaffe blitz, the Royal Navy nearly destroyed by German U-boats, and virtually the whole world in peril of falling under Nazi tyranny, FDR still refused to go to war because the majority of Americans were against it. It took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941 to change their minds.

So as American history suggests, foreign wars fought with popular support tend to end well - without that support they do not.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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