PRESIDENT OBAMA has at last decided to deliver military support to Syria’s rebels, though the quantity and quality of any U.S. arms deliveries remain to be seen. It’s a move that, if made 18 months ago, might have decisively tilted the civil war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and prevented the emergence of the extremist forces linked with al-Qaeda that are now active around the country. As it is, the action may be too small and come too late to achieve Mr. Obama’s stated goal of removing Mr. Assad from power.
The president’s hand was forced in part by strong evidence that the Assad regime had crossed a U.S. “red line” by using deadly sarin gas aganst rebels and civilians on multiple occasions; the White House’s announcement that chemical weapons had been used came months after Britain and France reached that conclusion. But Mr. Obama was also responding to desperate pleas from Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of the rebel force that the United States says it supports. In a phone call to a senior State Department official and in a message to Washington, the general warned of preparations by the regime to mount a new offensive in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, aimed at driving the rebels from districts they control.