Obama is learning now that the buck stops with him. The messy problem with Syria is his to fix.
I never understood why Syria wasn’t at the top of Obama’s concerns: it’s a close ally of Iran, a border state to Israel and the conduit for Iranian arms to Hezbollah.
Like other presidents, Obama faces an array of bad choices. Had he intervened a year ago, it might have been easier. To be fair, might is the operative word.
A White House aide told me, “There is no question in our minds that the regime would be willing to use these weapons, is able to use these weapons, and is increasingly likely to use these weapons as things continue to go badly for them.” But, at a recent meeting at the State Department, according to a person who attended, “No one wanted to say that Assad had crossed the line, because no one wants to deal with it.” Assad’s chemical arsenal is spread across the country, much of it in populated areas; an effective military strike against it would need to be huge, and meticulously coördinated, to make sure that no toxins were released into the air or into enemy control. Samore told me, “It’s really a nightmare military scenario.’’ As the regime has traded ground with the rebels, some of Assad’s chemical weapons have been moved, and it is not clear where all of them are. “The intelligence people told us that their visibility is basically zero on some of these weapons, that we’re not going to know until after they have been used—if then,’’ the Senate aide told me.
In Syria, more than seventy thousand people have died, and three and a half million have been forced from their homes; the refugee camp across the border in Jordan is now that country’s fifth-largest city. The Administration has given the Syrian opposition more than six hundred and fifty million dollars in nonmilitary aid, but Obama has consistently opposed arming the rebels or intervening militarily on their behalf. The United States has taken a tenuous position: not deep enough to please the rebels or its allies in Europe, or to topple the regime, or to claim leadership in the war’s aftermath—but also, perhaps most important, not so deep that it can’t get out. “Here’s what we wrestle with: there are huge costs and unintended consequences that go with a military intervention that could last for many years,” Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, told me. After the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little appetite for a new conflict. In a recent poll by the Timesand CBS News, only a quarter of respondents felt that the U.S. should take responsibility for Syria. “The country is exhausted,” a senior White House official said.
Leadership requires seeing the big picture and moving the nation toward it. Most Americans didn’t want to enter WWII, but FDR knew we’d have to become involved.
Read the whole thing: aside from a couple of irritating misstatements (no, Clinton did not have a tough economy and no, Obama was not busy with the war in Iraq because Bush negotiated its end), the article is a good primer on what’s happening in Syria.
If you haven’t been paying attention and want to catch up, this is your chance.