The Obama administration is stubbornly consistent on Syria: It is for inaction under any and all circumstances. Only the excuses for inaction change.
Until recently the official line from Washington was that Bashar Assad’s downfall was “only a matter of time,” and therefore the U.S. did not have to do much to nudge him out of power. Now, following Assad’s victory in Quasayr, and his expanding offensive to retake more territory from the rebels, many administration officials have concluded that “Assad is gaining momentum in the country’s civil war with aid from Hezbollah and is unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future.” This realization is triggering a debate in the administration about whether to send arms to the rebels or take other measures to influence the outcome on the ground.
We’ve seen these debates before, and there is no reason to think they will have a different outcome than in the past. Now, instead of assuming that there is nothing we need do to bring Assad down, many in the administration will no doubt assume there is nothing that we can do. Odds are we will continue to drift along in a fog of indecision even as Iran and Hezbollah continue their massive, and so far successful, intervention on Assad’s side.
Personally, I never believed that Assad’s downfall was assured in the past and I don’t believe his continuation in power is assured now. If the U.S. and our allies–Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France, Jordan, and others–were to step up aid to the rebels, providing everything from air cover to arms, the balance of power would tip against Assad again.
The argument against doing this–besides a general war-weariness and non-interventionism which has taken root in this administration–is that we would be aiding the kinds of extremists who execute a teenager for a casual mention of the Prophet. But of course a big part of the reason why extremists have taken a leading role in the rebellion is that the U.S. has done so little to help the more moderate factions. I still believe it is not too late to tip the balance of power not only between Assad and the rebels but also between rebel factions, empowering the more mainstream groups and draining power from the Al Nusrah Front and its ilk.
The intervention of Hezbollah into the conflict has only added more compelling reasons for action. As Lee Smith has noted in the Weekly Standard, the U.S. has a lot of scores to settle with Hezbollah stretching all the way back to its murderous bombings of our embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in the 1980s. This is a perfect opportunity to settle accounts and in the process weaken this Iranian proxy movement. Syrian rebels are fighting hard against Hezbollah and inflicted serious losses on Hezbollah fighters in Quasayr. They will inflict more losses in the future if only we would provide them the means to do so.