The White House, feeling pressured, considers escalating Syria civil war. Tired of spying on Americans? Why not go bomb Syria?
When a president in his second term is suddenly revealed to be snooping into everyone’s business by every electronic means available, the natural reaction might be to try to change the subject.
Trial balloons promoting U.S. military action in Syria started popping up yet again on June 10, as media from one end of the political spectrum to the other quoted mostly anonymous sources from the Obama administration and elsewhere with reactions to proposed violence ranging from enthusiasm to dismay.
The most widely-reported options for the nature of an American war in Syria include:
- U.S. may send troops
- U.S. may establish no-fly zone over Syria
- U.S. may send lethal weapons support to “vetted” rebels
- U.S. may support rebels in peace talks
- U.S. may do nothing
- U.S. may attack Iran
At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry and others have spoken on the record in favor of the June peace talks that are now scheduled for July. The Russians, as a longtime Syrian government ally, also support peace talks (while joining with China to keep the UN Security Council from acting, although it’s not clear what the Security would do, or even if it wants to do anything).
The Russians have also been sending surface to air missiles to the Syrian government, for “defensive” purposes, which the Israelis have found offensive. So far, the Syrians don’t seem to have shot down anything flying over Syria.
But those Russian missiles would complicate any plan for a no-fly zone.
Obama White House Sees Arming Syrian Rebels as Some Sort of “Compromise”
The “Syrian rebels,” a rubric with apparently no precise meaning, are threatening not to join peace talks unless they get more lethal weapons. At least some are making that threat, and they’re the ones we seem to think of most highly. Other rebels, more aligned with Iran or al Qaeda, may well be threatening to attend the peace talks if the American-favored rebels get more weapons and they don’t.
There is another bloc of more or less Kurdish rebels in western Syria. They don’t get much coverage, but they’re apparently in charge of significant territory, to the displeasure of Iraq and Turkey, and they seem content to sit tight rather than go to peace talks.
The White House is pitching the “more lethal weapons” as a “compromise” –
between sending troops or establishing a no-fly zone and the apparently unthinkable option of just not getting further involved with the Syrian tar baby.
Meanwhile, in what appears to be a branding move, al Qaeda in Iraq has a spokesman saying that it no longer has any connection with the Nusra Front for the People of the Levant [Syria], often referred to as an extension or affiliate of al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri, often reported a al Qaeda’s top leader, went on to tell the Syrian faction that, in any event, none of them one should be harassing other Muslims.
Whether these or other rebel “groups” actually exist, never mind exist in meaningful numbers, is a question without a known, reliable answer. There is near-consensus that Syrian rebel groups are numerous and volatile and often at odds with each other, even when they seem to be on the same side of any given rebel fault line.
Complexity Can Be Ignored By Fanciful Thinking
Illustrating that problem brilliantly, albeit perhaps inadvertently, Senator John McCain slipped into Syria on May 27 and met with rebels, including rebels who were kidnapers (he both denied that and said it was inadvertent). The point was that he didn’t really know and had no way of knowing, but was still an advocate of providing lethal weapons to those rebel groups that we had “vetted,” having just shown how impossible it is to vet much of anything in Syria these days.
The results of the Senator’s solo diplomacy on behalf of no identifiable government has produced no clear results, unless the McCain deserves some credit for the Syrian government’s recently improving military position in eastern Syria.
Undeterred in his promotion of military intervention, Sen. McCain told the Hill on June 8, that, with regard to his own favored rebel group: “The Obama Administration has said it supports General Idriss and his fighters. Now is the time for them to prove it. If they delay any further, it will be too late.”
We can hope.