If the goal is to help rebels regain the military advantage and, second, to diminish the regime's ability to kill, then the proposed means fall well short
(for a detailed discussion of why small arms are likely to be ineffective, see C.J. Chivers' explanation here). The fact that
nearly everyone seems to agree on the ineffectiveness of such a course -- including even Obama himself -- suggests the president did this because he needed
to "do something." It was, after all, getting embarrassing, with open mockery of Obama's
fecklessness, in general, and a rather squiggly "red line" that insisted on shifting in odd directions, in particular. But that Obama has done something he clearly didn't want to do for precisely the wrong reasons does not inspire
confidence. Rarely has a major policy change been announced so circumspectly with so little conviction.
The fact of the matter, and one the administration seems intent on eliding, is that the only way to help the rebels regain the advantage and force the
Assad regime to make real concessions is with a credible threat of military intervention through airstrikes against regime assets and the establishment of
no-fly and no-drive zones. This will mean taking additional steps and slowly deepening our involvement, a result which some now fear is inevitable. Of course, the other argument -- eloquently advanced by Larison over the past year -- is that no vital interests are at stake and that the
United States would be better staying out altogether. This latter argument, despite defining U.S. "interests" in extremely narrow terms, at least has the
virtue of some internal consistency.
For those who supported the NATO operation in Libya -- perhaps the epitome of a non-interests-based intervention -- and past interventions in Bosnia and
to entertain direct military action is more difficult to explain, although it no doubt has to do with the legacy of Iraq. Iraq is often mentioned by the
administration as offering lessons for the present, although why Syria should be so analogous to Iraq, rather than say Libya or Bosnia, is rarely specified
in any detail (Syria shares some of Iraq's sectarian features, but, to my knowledge, this was not the reason that so many felt the war was illegal,
unnecessary, and based on false pretenses). Misplaced support for the Iraq war has led to an overcorrection in the opposite direction.
"To my mind," Andrew Sullivan writes for instance, "the key components
of a successful Obama presidency -- an actual change we can believe in -- is the ability to resist war in Syria or with Iran under almost any circumstance."
Why intervene again in a messy, uncertain region when previous interventions have turned out so bad? Sullivan's position has little to do with
understanding Syria and how the situation on the ground has changed, but is based, rather, on an ideological aversion to intervention under, as he puts it,
"almost any circumstance." The problem with the Iraq war wasn't that it was an intervention, but that it was a bad intervention. It was the result
of conscious policy decisions -- guided by a neo-conservative worldview - just as non-intervention in Syria has been a very conscious and deliberate choice
on the part of an Obama administration guided by a philosophical and even ideological aversion to intervention or even pro-active involvement in the Middle