Obama’s Betrayal On Syria: Reax

Zbigniew Brzezinski struggles to understand the president’s strategy:

Larison analyzes the news:

This move will almost certainly prolong and intensify the conflict, which will mean that even more Syrians on both sides of the war will suffer and die. It’s a serious mistake, and one that will probably lead to even bigger ones in the future. Because it will prove to be ineffective in changing the course of the war, as opponents of this measure have said for years, it will serve as an invitation to further escalation in the coming months and years. The Syria hawks agitating for increased involvement have managed to pressure the administration into this because of Obama’s own unforced errors and because there has been practically no one to stop this from happening. Let this be a lesson that there is no policy measure so ill-conceived or unwise that the constant, repetitive demand for it in public won’t eventually succeed.

Massimo Calabresi thinks prolonging the war may be the point:

The Assad regime is increasingly relying on Hezbollah to fight throughout the country. The rebels for their part are relying on jihadist and al Qaeda allies to fight back. Keeping two of the United States’ most active terrorist enemies fighting each other might be seen in some circles as not such a bad thing.

Drezner agrees:

To your humble blogger, this is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik policy towards Syria that’s been going on for the past two years.  To recap, the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible.  This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished…. at an appalling toll in lives lost.

This policy doesn’t require any course correction… so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. A faltering Assad simply forces Iran et al into doubling down and committing even more resources.  A faltering rebel movement, on the other hand, does require some external support, lest the Iranians actually win the conflict.  In a related matter, arming the rebels also prevents relations with U.S. allies in the region from fraying any further.

Dexter Filkins sizes up Assad and his allies:

Now that the moment for American action has come, it is very late in the day. The war in Syria is not just a humanitarian catastrophe—the U.N. said on Thursday that the death toll had reached ninety-three thousand. Worse, the Assad régime appears, after months of stalemate, to have gained the upper hand. This is almost certainly due to a large-scale intervention by Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group, which has sent as many as two thousand fighters into Syria to save Assad. Hezbollah fighters were decisive in the pro-Assad force’s recent recapture of the city of Qusayr, which, in turn, is central to Hezbollah’s existence. Qusayr sits on the main road leading into Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, Hezbollah’s stronghold, and serves as the main conduit for Iranian arms and missiles that have made Hezbollah the formidable armed group that it is. Hezbollah’s intervention has been accompanied by a massive, ceaseless airlift from the Iranian government, which regards Assad as its closest friend in the Arab world.

Drum expects that US involvement will only deepen:

The next step, of course, is to cave in to the hawks and send the rebels the antitank and antiaircraft weaponry they want. I figure, what? Another couple of months before Obama decides to do that? Then the no-fly zone. Then….something else.

And Friedersdorf has stopped “trying to figure Obama out”:

[W]hether he is deliberately trying to escalate U.S. involvement, as Sullivan seems to think, or just prolonging the slaughter in Syria, as Drezner believes, his actions will be just the latest disappointment to the anti-war liberals who helped elect him. They’ll also be another example of a president making a decision that would be better debated and voted on by Congress.

My objection to intervention in Syria here.

Obama’s Betrayal On Syria


This was a president elected to get us out of conflict in the Middle East, not to enmesh us even further in a cycle of sectarian conflict and metastasizing warfare. This was a president who said he didn’t oppose all wars, just dumb ones. Is there a conceivably dumber war to intervene in than Syria’s current civil one? I can’t see one.

You can forgive a president once – even though his misguided, counter-productive and destabilizing war in Libya was almost as nuts as this latest foray. But by deciding to arm the Sunni radicals fighting the Shiites in Syria and Lebanon, the president has caved to the usual establishment subjects who still want to run or control the entire world. I don’t buy the small arms qualifier. You know that’s the foot in the door to dragging the United States into the middle of a civil war we do not understand and cannot control. If it has any effect, it will be to draw out the conflict still longer and kill more people. More staggeringly, he is planning to put arms into the hands of forces that are increasingly indistinguishable from hardcore Jihadists and al Qaeda – another brutal betrayal of this country’s interests, and his core campaign promise not to start dumb wars. Yep: he is intending to provide arms to elements close to al Qaeda. This isn’t just unwise; it’s close to insane.

What to do when a president just reverses course like this? It comes after verification that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against civilians. This is, apparently, the “red line”. Indiscriminate shelling that kills tens of thousands wasn’t enough. Of course, I’m not in any way defending the horrifying use of these weapons against civilians – but I am asking what on earth is the American national interest in taking sides militarily? I see precisely none. Do we really want to hand over Syria’s chemical arsenal to al Qaeda? Do we really want to pour fuel on the brushfire in the sectarian bloodbath in the larger Middle East? And can you imagine the anger and bitterness against the US that this will entail regardless? We are not just in danger of arming al Qaeda, we are painting a bulls-eye on every city in this country, for some party in that religious struggle to target.

I understand why the Saudis and Jordanians, Sunni bigots and theocrats, want to leverage us into their own sectarian warfare against the Shiites and Alawites. But why should America take sides in such an ancient sectarian conflict? What interest do we possibly have in who wins a Sunni-Shiite war in Arabia?

I hate to say it but this president looks as if he is worse than weak here. He is being dragged around by events and pressures like a rag doll. And this news that we are entering the war with military supplies is provided by Ben Rhodes, not the president. That’s nothing against Ben, but when a president is effectively declaring war, don’t you think he has a duty to tell the American people why and what he intends to achieve?

But nada. You voted twice for Obama? You’re getting the policies of McCain and the Clintons, the candidates he defeated. I wish I could understand this – but, of course, my worry is that the pincer movement of Rice and Power is already pushing us into a war we do not need, and cannot win.

This is worse than a mistake. It’s a betrayal – delivered casually. Maybe he thinks his supporters will treat this declaration of war just as casually. In which case, he’s in for a big surprise.

(Photo: Syrian rebel fighters belonging to the “Martyrs of Maaret al-Numan” battalion leave their position after a range of shootings on June 13, 2013 in the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan in front of the army base of Wadi Deif, down in the valley. By Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Is Iran Winning The Syrian Civil War?

Max Fisher worries that “it’s increasingly plausible that Iran will emerge as the big winner”:

How did it happen? The answer may be both simple and complex. For all the twists and turns in regional politics, sectarian divisions and even great-power politics, it might come down to something really simple: Iran just has a bigger stake in Syria than the U.S. does. …

A rebel-held Syria, whether those rebels were the Islamists favored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar or the moderates hoped for in Washington, would shut out Iran from its only major Arab ally and and make it much tougher for Iran to reach its proxies in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. It would leave Iran less able to reach the outside world or to threaten Israel, which Tehran sees, rightly or wrongly, as an imminent threat to Iranian security that must be deterred.

Martin Longman questions the framing:

This makes it appear like we are openly aligned with the rebels, but that is not the case.

We are formally opposed to the continued rule of the Assad regime, and we are working with some rebel groups, but we are just as opposed to some of the rebels (probably the majority of them) as we are to the Iran-backed regime. As [Liz Sly’s WaPo article] notes, the war in Syria has morphed into a sectarian conflict that pits Sunnis against Shiities and Alawites. It is neither advisable nor possible for us to take the side of the Sunnis in a sectarian religious war. That would pit us not only against Iran, but against Iraq. Plus, it’s the wrong thing to do. …

It is a gigantic failure of analysis to look at Syria as a proxy war between Iran and the United States of America. We would like to diminish Iran’s power and influence, it’s true. But not at the expense of taking sides in a sectarian fight where the most effective fighters on our side are indistinguishable from al-Qaeda.

The Neocon Pathology

Daniel Larison dismantles Max Boot’s unhinged argument that we should get involved in the Syrian civil war to “settle the score” with Hezbollah:

To seek to “settle” a score from 1983 by increasing U.S. involvement in a potentially even more dangerous civil war in Syria is nothing more than the foolish pursuit of revenge. It also demonstrates a complete failure to understand the original error of the Lebanon intervention, which [Max] Boot and [Lee] Smith think Reagan ended too quickly.

If intervention in Lebanon should have taught us anything, it is that the U.S. has no business meddling in another country’s civil war. To cite the costs of the disastrous Lebanon intervention as a “compelling” reason to intervene in Syria is perverse. If the U.S. made policy decisions today based on carrying out vendettas from thirty years before, there would be no end to the wars that we would feel “compelled” to join or start. The truth is that there are no compelling reasons for the U.S. to become more involved in Syria’s conflict. Many Syria hawks have been desperately trying to find some for two years, but to no avail.

Ask Fareed Zakaria Anything: Stay Out Of Syria

Earlier this week, Fareed weighed in on the ongoing unrest in Turkey. In today’s video, he offers an unequivocal warning about getting more involved in Syria:

Fareed Zakaria GPS airs Sundays on CNN, as well as via podcast.  Zakaria is also an Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a Washington Post columnist, and the author of The Post-American WorldThe Future of Freedom, and From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role. Our Ask Anything archive is here.

Today In Syria: Does The Opposition Want Intervention?

Late Monday, the Syrian National Council (a lead opposition group) called for foreign intervention even though they previously had rejected any non-Arab intervention. Paul Mutter tries to make sense of the muddle:

[Spokesman Samir] Nashar, and the Council, may be hedging their bets at this stage. Even if a Turkish or Arab League military mission (the latter would ostensibly be "permitted" by the Syrian opposition) materialized to oppose Assad, the U.S. would be involved. And unless the Syrian military decides to stand down as the Egyptian and Tunisian armed forces did last winter (thus helping force Ben Ali and Mubarak out of office), it is unlikely Assad will find himself adrift within his own inner circle. A violent end, or sufficient threat of one, would really be the only option available to the opposition to secure victory over the regime. 

Blogger "frustratedsyrian" reflects on the SNC's role in the uprising:

It seems to me they dont even know what they are; last month the head of the counsel [sic] state that when they will be in charge they will stop relations with Iran and they will not support hizbullah, have they forget that they are merely a transition counsel, their job is to make the transition from dictatorship to democratically representative system, they cannot decide on direction of the country or any strategic decisions. They are boxing themselves and limiting options of Syria for no apparent benefit, except trying to please the west by giving such statements.

The Free Syrian Army isn't waiting for external intervention; they're threatening to significantly escalate if the Arab League monitors don't get start making progress on ending the crackdown. With respect to violence, Michael Weiss has a new analysis of the recent suicide bombings that suggests the regime is the likely culprit. Michael Totten follows up. Below, a man bravely shows his amputated leg (cut off without anaesthesia while being treated for gunshot wounds in one of Assad's "hospitals") and other torture wounds to a monitor:

Here's a protest in Damascus' "Freedom Square:"

And here are some military thugs beating up detainees: