Drawn to Syria: The U.S. must resist involvement in a new war

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Americans who do not want the United States to go to war in Syria must keep their eyes on President Barack Obama.

He is moving in that direction, first by declaring the opposition Islamist movement, Al-Nusra Front, as a global terrorist organization. Inconsistent with this action, he also announced that the United States has joined other nations in recognizing the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the nation's legitimate government, in place of the beleaguered regime of President Bashar Assad.

The United States wants to increase support for the Syrian opposition, but it includes Islamist extremist organizations, some linked to al-Qaida.

Leaders from more than 100 countries met Wednesday in Morocco to officially recognize the Syrian opposition. The United States, by calling the Nusra Front terrorist while recognizing the coalition, espouses an ambiguous position. Coalition leader Sheikh Ahmad Mouaz al-Khatib has objected to Washington's dual policy, not least of all because Nusra is perhaps the most effective military group fighting Mr. Assad's forces. He, like others in the opposition, is also not enchanted by the United States declaring which parties in the coalition are worthy of support and which are not.

Another development in U.S. posturing is its opposition to the Syrian government's use of Scud ballistic missiles against the rebels. Mr. Obama's earlier effort to declare that movement of Syria's chemical weapons might constitute a red line in terms of U.S. involvement seems to have gone away, probably because of Russian advice to the Assad government. The use of Scuds against the rebels, with the risk of collateral damage to civilians and their property, is deplorable but should not serve as justification for U.S. military intervention.

The focus of Americans should be on staying out of the war. This may become increasingly difficult, however, as the Department of Defense looks for a new engagement after the departure from Iraq, the impending withdrawal from Afghanistan and the pressure on its budget posed by the fiscal cliff.

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