Is Obama Prolonging The War In Syria?

Driven by humanitarianism, realpolitik or a combination of both, the Obama administration's Syria policy is entering a dangerous new phase.

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Muzaffar Salman / REUTERS

A member of a rebel group called the Martyr Al-Abbas holds his weapon in a safe house in Aleppo June 11, 2013.

Administration officials told reporters Thursday that the CIA will covertly arm Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar al Assad. Reports the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. officials said the administration faced little choice other than to step up its support or risk watching as rebels lose still more ground to a resurgent Assad regime backed by Russia, Iran and soldiers from the militant Hezbollah group.

That makes sense. The U.S. doesn’t like Hezbollah or Iran, and it certainly doesn’t want the Assad regime to win the war. Washington’s also not crazy about Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East. But the administration is not going to give the rebels enough to do much more than keep fighting. Reports the New York Times:

The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.

That makes sense too. Obama may want to keep the opposition alive, but it would be dangerous to give them weapons that could be used to take down passenger planes since the rebels are deeply intertwined with jihadist factions, including one, Jabhat al-Nusra, the administration listed as an al Qaeda ally last December.

The administration declared it was taking this latest Syrian half-step because America’s spies had concluded that Assad had used chemical weapons. “The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date,” deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters Thursday. Said Rhodes, Obama “has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has.”

But there could be another reason for doing just enough to keep the two sides fighting. 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.

Such a realpolitik approach could carry dangers, though. Advocates of robust intervention, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have said that allowing the war to continue could dangerously threaten U.S. interests by spilling over into neighboring allied countries, like Jordan and Turkey. “This is a regional conflict,” McCain said Thursday, “Jordan is destabilized.  Lebanon is about to erupt into sectarian violence. Jihadists are flowing in from all over the Middle East. This is erupting into a regional conflict where the United States’ vital national security interests are at stake.” McCain advocates establishing a no-fly zone.

Allowing the bloodshed to continue also would cut against the declared policy of the administration and the humanitarian leanings of Obama’s incoming National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, and his nominee to be U.N. Ambassador, Samantha Power. In theory, they all want to diminish civilian deaths and end the war diplomatically. “The United States is providing $515 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis and seeking to rally others to provide more as well,” Rhodes said Thursday.

Perhaps the U.S. will prevent further civilian deaths and hasten the war’s end by declaring it is acting in response to the use of chemical weapons and by taking limited measures to counter Assad’s progress. But sometimes to see the true goals of a country’s diplomacy, it’s best to look at the effects of what its leaders do rather than the things they say.

With reporting by Zeke Miller and Jay Newton-Small
MORE: The Fall of al-Qusayr: Capture of Strategic Syrian Town Marks a New Phase in the War

44 comments
korysatter
korysatter

The only thing that arming the rebels with small arms does is prolong the conflict, and while it may seem straightforward to keep "two of the United States’ most active terrorist enemies [i.e. Hezbollah and al-Qaeda] fighting each other," it is much more complex. By prolonging the conflict, any voice of moderation that still exists within Syria and foreign policy circles will be sniffed out and muffled — extremism thrives on conflict. In other words, the longer this war rages the more likely — the most certain it is —that all parties on the ground in the Syrian Civil War will be radicalized. This will be Shiites (and perhaps some Christians) versus Sunni Muslims. The only people who benefit from a protracted conflict in Syria are those with the military-industrial complex, the ones who make their fortune via selling weapons to the only species that actively kills its own members.

Lisalll
Lisalll

We better not go to war. That's all I have to say.... we better not be preparing to go in to yet another war that we have no business getting involved in.

arvay
arvay

Let's be clear.

The "opposition" in Syria is al Qaeda.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/al-qaedas-leader-in-iraq-defies-boss-over-syria-fight/2013/06/15/05a92b92-d5e8-11e2-8cbe-1bcbee06f8f8_story.html

Arming these fanatics counts as the stupidity of the year, to date. We may hope this is a political gesture  and that Russia will supply Assad with whatever he needs to obliterate this fanatical group.

Tell us again, please, why we want to make the same kind of blunder we committed in Afghanistan and arm people whose main goal is the destruction of the west and the creation of some kind of Rube Goldberg Caliphate? They will fail, of course, but the sooner they leave earth for Paradise the better.

Yes, Assad has killed a lot of rebels and civilians. So did Abraham Lincoln and General William Tecumseh  Sherman. No, they are not equivalent, but worth noting that civil wars seem to be particularly virulent. And worth remembering that there are no "nice guys" in this area, just a choice between heavily armed authority freaks. Our money should be on a secular freak, rather than al Qaeda. 

Once Saudi Arabia, the sponsor of al Qaeda and the financier of numerous "schools" in Pakistan and elsewhere which teach its brand of Sunni Islamic fanaticism -- made this a proxy war -- our logical response should have been to point high-velocity munitions at the Royal Palace in Riad and order them to halt.

MonaSawalha
MonaSawalha

plz for americans ppl dont think that your government will help the free army into the victor !!!! the muslims sunni they have been fighting for two years and until now regime of bashar couldnt find any way to stop that so muslim sunni will win in the war with or without usa supported ... but obama he thinks that he will take some benefits from Syria because he know that the battle it going to finished and the winner will be the syrian free army ....... as a middle eastern i would like to say that even we hate usa government we still think that usa people the most ignorance ppl in the world so we dont have any kined of hatred against them    

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

OBAMA IS A SYMPATHIZER OF RADICAL ISLAM........HE SUPPORTED THE MOSLEM BROTHERHOOD AGAINST OUR ALLY MUBARAK........HE SUPPORTED AL QUEDA ETC, AGAINST OUR NEW ALLY KHADDAFY........NOW HE IS SUPPORTING AL QUEDA ETC AGAIN IN SYRIA......CONNECT THE DOTS......

NOW....HE IS ERADICATING CHRISTIANITY IN THE MILITARY SAYING YOU CANNOT READ OR MENTION JESUS WHILE IN UNIFORM??

ARE THE AMERICAN GENERALS AND ADMIRALS SO STUPID THAT THEY CANNOT SEE WHAT THE CIC IS DOING?  I THOUGT THEY WERE WEST POINT AND ANNAPOLIS GRADUATES?

WHERE ARE THE PATRIOTS WHO WILL SAVE US FROM BEING DESTROYED FROM WITHIN?......

valentine, comedian, lol......

branchltd
branchltd

How long the conflict lasts is less important than who's still standing at the end of the fight.  On the one hand we have Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, which Putin now plans to supply with his most advanced weapons systems.  On the other hand we have a rag-tag collection of organized rebels with government or military experience, motley collections of citizens learning combat by on-the-job training, and organized terrorist bands of differing persuasions.  Should the first group gain full control of Syria it will greatly boost Hezbollah's stock.  Syria has already been paying them with their best weapons and, it is likely, that includes chemical and biological ones (since many of them have 'gone missing' from US intelligence maps).  The part of Lebanon that Hezbollah doesn't own has also been under attack from Syria since Hezbollah joined the conflict.  And don't believe for a minute that the protests in Turkey are spontaneous citizen actions - they are not - they are inspired by agents provocateur acting on behalf o the terrorist trio.  Should the second group win it is possible - though unlikely - that Syria could be under terrorist control and slightly more possible that the Eastern/Southern part of Syria could be under terrorist control.  However, these terrorist would lack advanced Russian weapons, would be unlikely to get them, and would generally as capable of outside action as those in Somalia were.  Hezbollah's main supply route would also be cut.  Even if by random chance we ended up with the worst outcome of a rebel victory we would be far better off than with an Assad victory.  It must also be accounted that fall of Lebanon would be a minor disaster for the US and fall of Turkey would be a major disaster.  There is another factor to consider.  The invasion of Syria by Hezbollah and Iran has made the terrorist trio absolutely odious to much of the Muslim world.  Opinion polls in Saudia Arabia are almost exactly the opposite what they were after the US foolishly invaded Iraq.  If the US doesn't support the rebels it will find itself with fewer allies in the region in the future. Don't think for a minute that US inaction will result in resumption of the ante-bellum status, it won't.

paulejb
paulejb

There are no good guys in the Syrian conflict. There are only bad guys and worse guys. It will be lose lose if we get involved. Let the Sunnis and Shiites sort this out the same way they have sorted each other out for a millennium and a half.

azmalhome
azmalhome

 Quran 5:51 O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them.Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.

 Quran 2: 120 “never will the Jews and the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion. Say, "Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the [only] guidance." If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no protector or helper.”

http://azmalhome.wordpress.com

Who those Muslim will go to suck the leg of non-Muslim powerful leader around when they got the trouble? The world’s popular media says “those are good Muslim”.

Quran13: But those who break the covenant of Allah after contracting it and sever that which Allah has ordered to be joined and spread corruption on earth – for them is the curse, and they will have the worst home….

http://azmalhome.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/islamic-terrorism/

fitty_three
fitty_three

Has anyone yet asked about the sheer stupidity of the question itself?

How in hell is a war in progress "prolonged?  How would you  know? By the fact that the war in progress is still being fought the day after a given decision even if it would have been fought anyway?

Teh Stoopid.  I'll go back to worrying about something important, like if Obama should get the blame for these rain clouds!

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Strange as it may be but I would back Assad... a known quantity.

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

Juan Cole has the best, most concise comment on intervention that I have read to date: "You never, ever want to encourage the rise of private militias and flood a country with high- powered weaponry."

http://www.juancole.com/

JohnAbramson
JohnAbramson

This is just ridiculous! Americans can not possibly share this view. Only idiots agree to war. We NEED to start withdrawing our troops around the globe so we can have our best and brightest here at home. There's a country to rebuild. Our own. We didn't cause any of this in Syria. And I'm sure the only people who REALLY want US involvement are connected to the arms industry or blood thirsty Sunnis, wanting revenge. I call BS on them wanting "less civilian deaths". Since when has that been a priority for the US? Less civilian deaths????? That's completely laughable. 

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

I cannot think of a single example in the past 60 years where the USA has intervened in a Middle Eastern country with a positive outcome. Bosnia offers perhaps the least bad outcome, but Bosnia is an outlier, despite is Muslim population. In Libya is still too soon to tell, but the Obama administration in that case wisely chose to "lead from behind" and it was mostly a European affair — as it should have been. 

I am far from an isolationist, but I see little likelihood of making the situation better, and a great deal of risk in making it worse. Let the Syrians fight it out, to the last city, town, and village, if necessary; eventually they will come to a solution, no matter how bloody.

Arnaud Amalric in the Albigensian Crusade may still have the best advice: "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. (Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.)

saintgeorge5
saintgeorge5

Well we are here again.  Iraq WMDeception, Libya a dictator, now attention turn to another secular state fighting to turn Syria from another Islamic state.  US and EU harping that Russia and Iran, Hisbullah are involved.

What a hypocricsy?  So called Syria Free Army, a misnomer for Jihadi who want Islamic law in extreme, SHARIA.

FSA were supplied by Qutar, more than three billion dollars, plus arms supplied by Saudis, Wahabis cut throats, other monarchical Persian Gulf petrol states, Suni Islamist Militias, plus others as far away from Chehney.

US Marines, four thusand of them, plus CIA operatives were already functioning, from the word go.

US Intel or so called Intel have always promoted wars on behest of US Military Complex.  President Eisenhower in retirement speech warned the nation of this growing menace.

So we have proxy wars being fought by US and West to neutrlise Iran.  Wake up people, dont't let your politicians fool you.

NP042
NP042

" allowing the war to continue could dangerously threaten U.S. interests by spilling over into neighboring allied countries, like Jordan and Turkey."


Perhaps we should wait until either of these countries actually ask us for help dealing with this instead of just assuming they want our help and go in guns a-blazing.

swagger
swagger

here we go again contrary to what a large majority wants.  instead of no more war, we get more more war of choice and this time we're backing our sworn bloodthirsty enemies.

kolagunta
kolagunta

The US propped up the Taliban in Afghanistan and result is there for all to see. In Syria the US is trying the same policy by supporting the Sunni radical elements who are no better than Alqaida. There is no love lost between the Sunnis and the US, or rather the whole non-sunni world. Sunnis are a menace to humanity and propping them up is not only foolish but criminal. Let the Sunnis and the Shias fight among themselves. Leave them to settle the score, by withdrawing from the conflict areas and the whole Muslim world. If you support one sect the other will become your enemy. Be a neutral outsider and watch how they setle their dispute. For fear of self destruction the two clans will come to an understanding which will be quite fast.

disinterested3rdparty
disinterested3rdparty

Americans want nothing to do with another interference with a sovereign nation, but our government is out of control.

CarlRobertson
CarlRobertson

We should not intervene for two reasons.  Where the stated reason the gov't offers is humanitarian concerns,  the gov't ignores the fact that in the Arab world, revenge is a deeply embedded sociocultural impulse.  Not only do we see this in operation now by the rebels themselves, some proportion of whom are, like Italian partisans after WWII, merely opportunists (committing murder as well as theft), but the entire Shia/Sunni underpinning of thousdands of murders going on right now is traced to a 1,000-year-old religious feud, which has spread under Arab influence to Pakistan.  Those rebels have mentally recorded accounts to settle when they get into power.  Their promises otherwise mean absolutely nothing.  Where the underlying intention is the long-term hope of gaining friends in the region:  back-stabbing and betrayal are also embedded cultural features of Arab tribal society, and there are a multitude of examples in both recent and ancient history.  The seeming exception of Jordan ignores the facts that (1) it is an artificial, relatively recent creation by the British, with a shaky foundation that can only hold the country together with a strong armed force, and (2) there are rumblings from below of dissatisfaction by various groups chafing under the rule of a royal dynasty which actually is Saudi in origin.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

The rebels haven't crossed that "red line" simply because they didn't have access to chemical weapons. 

grape_crush
grape_crush

Meh. If there is any intervention, it will be along the same lines of what the US involvement in Ghadaffi's overthrow was. Allies like Jordan and Turkey will ask us to come in under the umbrella of a UN-led effort. We will provide air, logistical, and covert support like we did in Libya.

McCain is a useless politician whose sole purpose seems to be seeing how many mouth noises he can make on the Sunday morning televised circle jerk sessions.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

Recapping: the first 2 years of Obama presidency, he has the majority of the House. He was totally scared to apply part of the program for what he was elected. One thing is to heavy talk and another to have the cojones to act as a president. He caved in shamefully to the Republicans. The rest of his four years was a continuing bowing to the whims of the right wings. Case in point: if you read his promise as a candidate about the health reform, Obama care, you wouldn't recognized one iota what he got as a law compared to his promise as a candidate. The rest of his four years were a continuing bowing to the whims of the Republican Party: No Guantanamo closing, no applying the constitutional law to the prisoners of Guantanamo, NO SOLUTION FOR THE PALESTINIAN, namely, the same foreign policy of all his predecessors, with the exception of that highly moral president, JIMMY CARTER. Now this, bowing to the pressure of the travelling Senator and foreign policy representative of the Obama government, mr MAC CAIN and the rest of the warmongering senators of the governing power, THE REPUBLICANS, this government has entered actively into the fray of a civil war of a sovereign country.  YOU KNOW AMERICANS FRIENDS, OBAMA IS THE FIRST BLACK REPUBLICAN ELECTED AS A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, RIDING A DONKEY.

justplncate
justplncate

Yes, diplomatic negotiations are definitely the way to go.  Their track record of unbridled success at Munich, with the North Koreans in 1950, Pol Pot in the 70's illustrates the superiority of this approach.  And if the price of this prolongation of the conflict happens to be the deaths of another 93,000 Syrian civilians, plus the destabilization of Jordan and Lebanon it's worth it. 

 After all the goal is not to end a conflict.  It's to keep up Obama's approval numbers when ultraliberal Democrats a polled.

destor23
destor23

"Perhaps the U.S. will prevent further civilian deaths and hasten the war’s end by declaring it is acting in response to the use of chemical weapons and by taking limited measures to counter Assad’s progress..."


Who says this is even within the realm of our capabilities in the region?  Who says there is public appetite for US intervention there?

info5
info5

America, rather than sending the rebels a.k.a ALQUADA weapons. Please consider a foreign policy of ISOLATIONISM. This is the answer to peace in the middle east. Americans, please stop believing that your country is the saviour of the world. Your country is the reason so many conflicts exist. The world is not Jelouse of your "freedom" it is angry at you for denying people their "Freedom". American people you have been taken for a ride.....and the whole world see's it. You are all  starring in your own Truman show. Wake up....

deksoftwareint
deksoftwareint

There are two misconceptions most Americans have about this conflict. The first is the what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas attitude that we should mind our own business and not get involved. However, our ally Jordan is on the verge of collapse because this tiny country is absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees. Lebanon is close to a new civil war between Sunnis and Shiites that could also cause the same thing to happen in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain and Turkey, our NATO ally may get involved, and there could be a war between Israel and Syria with Iran using Hezbollah as a proxy on the Golan Heights.

The second misconception is the false belief that if President Obama arms the rebels or craters the airfields so Syrian jets cannot bomb their own cities this would somehow lead to tens of thousands of American soldiers on the ground in the middle of a nasty war. We can greatly weaken the brutal Syrian regime without one American soldier setting footing on Syrian soil.

We had no security interest in Kosovo but yet America could not stand by and watch the genocide of Muslims in Kosovo by the Serbs and we ended the genocide and if we had acted we could have prevented the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda.

America is the only superpower in the world and a superpower is not measured by the strength of its military or the size of its economy but instead by the values which it stands for. Close to 100,000 people have died in Syria.  America must act now.

outsider
outsider

Why would you even ask that question, MC?

The US is NOT the world police. And every time the US intervenes, they aren't exactly thanked.

How much have the last two wars cost? Wasn't it enough?

Stop carrying water for the right.

Here is a crazy idea - how about fixing things at home, before you worry about another foreign adventure?

What happened to jobs, jobs, jobs!

Or, you know - actually governing??

Stop advocating war - at least until the last two are paid for.

duduong
duduong

Another surprisingly good analysis at Time.com. Now, if only they can get rid of Hannah Beech, Time would be the only major media outlet in the US largely free of bias, propaganda and sensationalist nonsense.


AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@Lisalll I couldn't agree more.  I saw where for the past 60 years (since WW II) we have been in one war after another.  We need to stop.  We need to recognize those conflicts that are directly related to our interests and those that aren't.  Afghanistan was justifiable while Iraq wasn't for example.  Syria is not in our national interests and is an internal conflict that only the combatants can settle.

The problem, of course, is that this conflict expands beyond the Syrian borders.  We are seeing this already in Lebanon.  The best we can do is to support our allies in the area as they deal with this and provide humanitarian aid.  Sending arms to rebels who don't like us is nutz.  Getting involved in a civil war is worse.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@paulejb  

So in reality, the whole thing doesn't matter.  The important thing is that you have to promote your hatred of a black man as POTUS.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@deksoftwareint Which values? Selective values? Or Geopolitics Values?  Are the people being oppressed in S Arabia, Qatar or Palestine, different from the ones in Kosovo or any other country where the USA has special interests and for that reason allows those dictatorships or a certain democracy in the Middle East to do what it pleases?  You have a very selective way of seeing yourself as an American. The Messianic country to protect only some countries where it has some special interests.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@deksoftwareint 

So, we are to assume the position of Policeman of the World?  Haven't we already learn that lesson? 

This is a no win situation for anyone who gets involved.  This is also an internal struggle that the two sides need to resolve themselves.  We can help Jordan and Turkey without supplying military weapons to the Syrian rebels.  We can continue with our humanitarian aid.  But to take this half step (that in and of itself is self defeating.  Think "gradual escalation" from the Viet Nam war) is poorly considered and will have no other outcome than to prolong the conflict.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@paulejb

I note that above, you wrote that it really doesn't matter who wins.

To the readers here who don't know you, you would appear to be self contradictory.

I know otherwise:

You hate Obama simply because he's a black American and you can't stand it.

jmac
jmac

@AlphaJuliette @deksoftwareint  "This is an internal struggle."  

Wrong.  This involves a lot of countries who are worried about the overall effect.  It's not simple.  We have allies in Europe, we have the entire Middle East conflict to keep on the radar, and we have a conscience.  

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

@AlphaJuliette : Perhaps we should not, but we can get actively involved, and it looks like we are on the start of a long road to doing so. 

jmac
jmac

@AlphaJuliette @jmac @deksoftwareint  "This war isn't ours to fight."    Our allies think it's our duty to get involved.   Involved doesn't involve invading.  Everyone needs to calm down.  Andrew Sullivan, one of the biggest supporters of Bush's invasion of Iraq who has a massive guilt complex over it, is going bananas.  I'll march with him if Obama wants to invade and send troops - otherwise I think this is merely bowing to international pressure (plus he's got Christiane Armanpour and Israel on his back) - he's been extremely cautious up to this point.  

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@jmac @AlphaJuliette @deksoftwareint 

Yeah, no doubt about it.  It is unsettling.  And it is regional.  And it may involve other countries.  BUT, we cannot get actively involved.  Humanitarian aid is one thing.  Sending arms into a powder keg like the middle east is like adding gasoline to a fire. 

As for our conscience, where do you draw the line?  Why aren't we invading North Korea and liberating those poor desperate people from the ravages of a tyrannical regime? 

We have to pick our battles.  This war isn't ours to fight.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@justplncate @AlphaJuliette @deksoftwareint 

Grow Up?!  Hiding in the cellar?!  Seriously?  THAT is your "considered" response to commentary about being the world's policeman?  Whew!

You grow up!  This is an internal Syrian struggle.  No outside active interference will settle it.  This is not our fight.