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Nation/World

February 19, 2014

Obama struggling to find winning formula in Syria

WASHINGTON — With peace talks failing, Syria’s government on the offensive and moderate rebels pushed aside by al-Qaida-linked militants, the Obama administration is struggling for new ideas to halt a savage civil war.

Extending beyond Syria, the crisis is also an accelerating national security threat to the United States, officials say. And that, in part, has led to a fresh look at previously shelved ideas, including more robust assistance to Western-backed rebels.

Officials also have looked at newer, more far-reaching options, including drone strikes on rebel factions who might aspire to attack the United States — though such strikes are seen as unlikely for now.

American officials remain hampered by the same constraints that have stymied the U.S. response throughout the three-year civil war, including concern that lethal assistance could end up in the hands of extremists. And then there also is President Barack Obama’s own distaste for military action.

Speaking cautiously, White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday, “We have to examine what the alternatives some might be proposing are and whether they’re in our national security interest.” He added that the administration also was concerned about whether stepped-up intervention could lead to “unintended consequences.”

Obama has yet to approve any policy shift. But his top aides plan to meet at the White House before week’s end to examine options, according to officials. They weren’t authorized to talk publicly on the matter and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Giving new impetus to the review is what the Obama administration calls Syria’s emerging “threat to the homeland.” In recent weeks, the president’s senior national security aides have delivered dire warnings about extremist havens in Syria, and about Americans and other Westerners joining the fight and being radicalized.

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