Losing our foothold "in the grim effort to prevent the slide down the slippery slope to war"
Mark Lynch offers a deeply skeptical and very depressing assessment of the decision to intervene in Syria. It rings true to me, mostly because it sounds like so many other cases where the operative inducement is an understanable desire to "do something" even though there's really not much to be done.
This is one piece of it:
On its own, the decision will have only a marginal impact on the Syrian war -- the real risks lie in what steps might follow when it fails. The significant moves to arm the rebels began last year, with or without open American participation. Assad's brutal campaign of military repression and savage slaughters and the foreign arming of various rebel groups has long since thoroughly militarized the conflict. The U.S. is modifying its public role in a proxy war in progress, providing more and different forms of support to certain rebel groups, rather than entering into something completely new.
The real problem with Obama's announcement is that it shatters one of the primary psychological and political footholds in the grim effort to prevent the slide down the slippery slope to war. He may have chosen the arming option in order to block pressure for other, more direct moves, like a no-fly zone or an air campaign. But instead, as the immediate push for "robust intervention" makes obvious, the decision will only embolden the relentless campaign for more and deeper U.S. involvement in the war. The Syrian opposition's spokesmen and advocates barely paused to say thank you before immediately beginning to push for more and heavier weapons, no-fly zones, air campaigns, and so on. The arming of the rebels may buy a few months, but when it fails to produce either victory or a breakthrough at the negotiating table the pressure to do more will build. Capitulating to the pressure this time will make it that much harder to resist in a few months when the push builds to escalate.
That's how it usually works. And Lynch avoids the possibility that this may actually make things worse. More guns rarely makes things better.
Everything I read says that President Obama, unlike many in his cabinet (including his former Secretary of State) has been extremely reluctant to engage but finds himself hemmed in by the circumstances. He certainly isn't the first president to find himself in that situation. America's military empire has perhaps been the most "exceptional" thing about us in recent decades. I hope he resists the pressures that Lynch illustrates above. But the first step is always the hardest. The next ones will probably be easier which argues for not taking the step in the first place.