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Syria solution a difficult one

That the United States has to act on the deployment of chemical weapons by Syria’s embattled government is a given.

The only question is how it will take place, and when.

U.S. officials have determined that Syria’s government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has used chemical weapons against its own people in what has been a one-sided civil war. In doing so, Assad crossed the red line that was drawn by President Barack Obama.

“A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments — including the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a Senate hearing, according to prepared remarks reported Tuesday by Reuters News Service. “The word of the United States must mean something.”

And that is what it has come down to. Once a line drawn by the U.S. president is crossed, America must act in an appropriate fashion or find itself with a loss of credibility not only with our friends, but with our foes. Anyone who thinks that leadership in nations such as Iran and North Korea are not watching this situation intently for a sign of weakness is terribly mistaken.

The response has to be significant with a clear objective, and that should be to thwart Assad’s ability to deploy more chemical strikes against Syrians. In doing so, the forces working to topple Assad would be given a more equal footing.

What we don’t want to happen is for U.S. military forces to be drawn into this civil war. The Obama administration says that is not the case, that it has no intentions of sending troops into the battlefield. But the administration also does not want its hands tied on that issue.

“I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the president of the United States to secure our country,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at a Senate hearing Tuesday.

The fact is that this war, which already has killed more than 100,000 people and created more than 2 million refuges, has the potential to spread into a regional conflict. If that happens, it’s possible that the United States and its allies, along with unfriendly nations, could be drawn in.

By taking out many of Assad’s military capabilities and finding ways to upgrade the rebels’ abilities, there is a chance that scenario can be avoided.

Congress is back in session next week. The House and Senate will be asked to authorize the use of force.

A decision must be be made that shows America’s word has meaning, while also avoiding getting our military mired in another war. Finding that narrow path will be one of Obama’s biggest challenges as commander-in-chief. It’s a challenge we hope he will meet.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board