Even as U.S. officials criticize direct military action in Syria as unworkable, the Obama administration continues to make clear that the military option is being considered and plans drawn up.
Actions under discussion include sending in ground troops with the stated mission of safeguarding Syria’s weapons and providing humanitarian assistance. But the imposition of U.S. soldiers would undoubtedly tear the country into all out war and probably end in regime change directed by Washington.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said that further “massacres” like was seen in Houla last week “could plunge Syria into catastrophic civil war.” What kind of action world powers would justify at that undefined point is unclear.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also warned of civil war, but blamed Russia for contributing to that potential. This, even as the U.S. continues to aid and arm the rebel militias who themselves say they are preparing for war. Many of them are fighting with the explicit intention of provoking an international or U.S.-led action to depose the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. can aid the rebels to bring about regime change. “There are certain things and capabilities that the United States has that can, in conjunction with our Arab League partners, could provide a tipping point so it would provide certain capabilities to units that we know who are trying to overthrow the Assad regime that we can vet, that we can test, that we can understand who completely that they are,” he said Wednesday.
But no amount of aid to the Syrian insurgents could put them on a par with the military capabilities of the Assad regime. Backed by Russia, Assad’s powerful and well-equipped security forces would likely react to more aggressive arming of the rebels by cracking down even harder, justifying further brutality by pointing to foreign intervention.
The White House said on Tuesday it opposes military intervention in Syria. “We do not believe that militarization, further militarization of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney said. “We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.”
Unfortunately, U.S. policy of aiding the rebel militias – just like Russia’s policy of aiding the Assad regime – is emboldening one side in a civil conflict. Prolonging this conflict in this way may lead to a worsening situation on the ground, at which point direct military action might be easier to justify rhetorically.