It's time for that 3 a.m. phone call

The 2008 battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination produced the memorable Hillary Clinton TV ad with a White House phone ringing in the wee hours. The ad implicitly questioned what would happen if there was an international crisis and a President Barack Obama answered the phone.

It's time for Secretary of State Clinton to make that 3 a.m. phone call herself. She should advise President Obama that it's time to change course on Syria. On Tuesday, she accused Russia of sending helicopter gunships to Syria and said the shipment "quite drastically" heightens the conflict.

And there is no hope for a United Nations-sponsored cease-fire. Herve Ladsous, the U.N.'s peacekeeping chief, acknowledged that an apt description of the violence going on in Syria is akin to a civil war.

Only the United States can provide the essential support to depose of Bashad Assad's terror-inflicting regime, stop the slaughtering of innocents and help the Syrian people get on the long road to democracy.

Clinton, herself a resident in the White House for eight years, must have witnessed hesitation, ambivalence and excessive desire for global approbation delay American leadership.

Equivocation in words and actions usually makes the mission harder, more costly and deadlier. Recent examples abound. Former President Bill Clinton surely must regret failing to inhibit the Rwanda genocide, allowing the Balkans disaster to play out and only halfheartedly trying to capture Osama bin Laden.

President George H.W. Bushdidn't finish off Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War in that brief interregnum of unchallenged American global hegemony shortly after the dismantling of the Soviet Union. George W. Bush missed the opportunity to promptly withdraw the coalition from Iraq before an anti-occupation insurgency could legitimize itself.

America didn't cut off oil to Japan upon its 1931 Manchurian aggression, waiting until 1941 when Japan was strong enough to attack us. We ignored French and British impotence in 1936 when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, setting the stage for the Munich dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the invasion of Poland in 1939.

We inadvertently enticed Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea in 1950 when we expressed uncertainty about the scope of our Pacific defense perimeter. We repeated the error with Kuwait in 1990, making Saddam think he had a green light to invade. The list goes on.

On Libya we waited for a broad multilateral go-ahead that never really came. Obama and Clinton eventually responded to the goading of France and Britain, made good use of an Arab League fig leaf and put America's muscle behind a thoughtful application of force.

Neither Clinton nor Obama should shrink from acting decisively in Syria. Supplying arms, intelligence, aggressive political and propaganda support, safe havens, medicine and food to the rebels would likely carry the day without Allied airstrikes.

Although, if necessary, we could warn the Syrian air force that anything that flies once will never fly again. We can also assure safe passage and remote refuge for Assad and his murderous minions.

The Assad regime has long been a state sponsor of terrorism. It protected the main conduit smuggling al-Qaidasuicide bombers and foreign fighters into Iraq. Syria is now the No. 1 client state of Iran, and there are reliable reports that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are propping up the Assad regime and assisting in wholesale murder operations.

Looking to the U.N. Security Council as the final authority is a fundamental mistake that gives Russia and China, arms merchants to Assad, a veto over American action. It has been demonstrated ad nauseam that the U.N. cannot be reliably decisive in overthrowing despots.

Perhaps Secretary Clinton's recent denunciation of serial massacres is a harbinger of an ultimatum to Syria and the U.N. that if action is not sanctioned, then the U.S. will need to take unsanctioned action.

The Assad family is headed toward history's ash heap, more likely literally than metaphorically. The longer it takes, the greater the cost to us.

Philip R. O'Connor served as an energy adviser in Iraq in 2007-08. He formerly chaired the Illinois Commerce Commission and was a member of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

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