Commentary Magazine


Obama Sending Wrong Signals to Syria

Why on earth are Obama administration officials loudly proclaiming they have no intention of taking any military action in Syria? “At this point, we do not believe that the further militarization of the situation is the best course,” senior State Department officials said Thursday. “It is not clear to us whether arming [rebel forces] would actually save lives or help topple Bashar Assad,” Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, told a Senate panel.

There is little doubt arming the rebels or taking other actions would carry some risks. But there is also a considerable risk of doing nothing and letting the civil war rage. If the administration is really worried about al-Qaeda and other extremists making inroads in Syria, then they should be doing something to end the fighting. Recall how Hezbollah arose out of Lebanon’s civil war and al-Qaeda in Iraq arose out of that country’s post-2003 turmoil. That is what we should be striving to avoid in Syria.

Even if the administration wants to avoid military action (as it should if at all possible), it should be talking tough so as to help along diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and ease Bashar al-Assad out of power. Unless there are some visible sticks, a carrots-only approach is not likely to work. The president seems to have belatedly figured this out with regard to Iran, which presumably is why he is talking tougher about the mullahs’ nuclear project, telling Jeffrey Goldberg, “I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

So why at the same time is the administration sending a signal to the Syrian regime it has nothing to worry about regarding outside intervention to end its horrific and indiscriminate violence?