YouGov finds that Americans oppose intervention in Syria:
From the president’s perspective, in fact, it would be best not to get involved at all. But the pressure on him this week became too much to bear. Former President Bill Clinton essentially called Obama a dithering coward because of his unwillingness to enter the Syrian conflict, and the intelligence community found evidence that Assad’s regime has definitively crossed the chemical weapons “red line” the president had spoken of — surely to his everlasting regret — last year.
Obama sees no clean way out, and no clear rationale for deepening U.S. involvement. He also sees a rebel coalition that is both dysfunctional and radicalized, and he knows that there is an outcome to this war that is worse than the continuation of Assad’s rule: the dissolution of the Syrian state and its replacement, in some locations, with al-Qaeda havens. Even an all-in move by Obama to make the rebels’ cause his own probably wouldn’t prevent the country’s collapse (it has, in fact, already collapsed as a unitary state). And he knows that if terrorist groups establish footholds in Syria — geographically close to our crucial allies, Jordan and Israel — he will have to act against them.
Matt Steinglass hopes that Clinton’s comments didn’t play a role:
I dearly hope that the policy documents the State Department is now drawing up regarding American military aid to Syrian rebel groups do not read “Goal: Keep POTUS from looking like a wuss.”
As long as the war goes on, the demands for “decisive” action will increase every week, and the administration has just decided to do something that is intended to prolong the war. Meanwhile, containing and limiting the effects of the war on Syria’s neighbors, which is what ought to matter far more to the U.S., will become more difficult as the U.S. directly contributes to regional instability. I suppose one could call this Realpolitik, except that it ignores U.S. interests, the stability and security of allies and clients, and commits us to the losing side in a civil war where we have nothing at stake. I wouldn’t expect this realist policy to please many realists.
Justin Logan agrees that intervention in Syria isn’t realist foreign policy in action:
I don’t think it’s right to read realists as advising Washington to fuel the Syrian civil war in the hopes of bleeding Hezbollah and Iran white. It’s this sort of operationally realist but strategically grandiose foreign policy that has given realism a bad name. Sometimes, in the name of conservatism and defraying the costs of war, realists advise deeply cynical policies that force those costs onto others. But in a similar spirit of conservatism, and indeed ethics, they tend to define the national interest in such a way that a profoundly secure country like the United States doesn’t have to do terrible things across the globe all the time.
Max Fisher doubts that giving the rebels small arms will accomplish much:
Rebel leaders say that small arms will do them little good and that they need heavier weapons. Whether or not greater U.S. involvement is a good idea, two things appear to be true: that the rebels are losing ground against Assad’s forces, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, and that small arms would not turn the tide.
Michael Weiss and Elizabeth O’Bagy are already calling for a no-fly zone:
Any swift and decisive decision to materially aid the Free Syrian Army will necessarily include degrading or destroying the runways and infrastructure of Syria’s military airbases and commercial airports. The fact is, Assad’s warplanes and helicopters aren’t just bombing rebel strongholds, civilian homes and bakeries, they’re also being used for domestic and international resupply efforts. Whenever the regime wants to bolster its conventional military presence in restive areas in the north or northwest of Syria, it dispatches reinforcements of crack troops via air transport. (Ground transport is still dangerous for Damascus given the supply routes now controlled by the rebels).
James Traub claims that Obama won’t commit American troops to Syria:
Obama has now crossed a line that he had hoped not to cross. Those who wish he had not done even that much will say that a slippery slope leads to U.S. boots on Syrian soil. That’s not a serious argument; this is a president who is focused on reducing American troop deployments, not finding new pretexts for combat. The real question is how much the United States and other outside actors can do to stop the killings, to force Assad to reconsider, to stabilize a region now facing the threat of sectarian war. You can’t help feeling that Obama is trying to simultaneously satisfy incompatible moral and strategic calculations. There’s a very real danger that he will fail on both counts.
And Josh Marshall comes out against intervention:
The only thing which gives me some pause are the advantages the US and US allies would gain by severing the Syrian-Iranian alliance. That’s a big thing. But to put it in really surgical terms, I think we’ve learned, at great pain and loss, that the US doing surgery on the Middle East creates scar tissue and complications way out of proportion to the hoped for gains.