In two recent interviews, President Obama articulated in unprecedented depth why his administration has chosen to refrain from either directly arming rebel fighters in Syria or from any direct military action against the Assad regime.
“We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation” in conflicts around the world, he added.
“What I have to constantly wrestle with,” President Obama said in a separate interview with The New Republic, “is where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity.”
“In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime?”
The Obama administration has been heavily pressured by many interventionist groups and congressmen in Washington eager to get militarily involved in yet another Middle Eastern country. Most of these groups point to the heavy casualties of the Syrian civil war as an argument that the US must “do something,” about it.
But Obama noted that there are many areas of conflict and heavy casualties. “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria,” he said, “versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?”
While the Obama administration has called for Assad to step down and has sent some humanitarian and logistical aid to some rebel groups, it has stopped short of directly sending weapons or imposing a no fly zone, or invading to overthrow the Assad regime.
The truth is, Washington doesn’t perceive any viable plan for military action in Syria. Beyond the vastly increased destruction and humanitarian suffering it would cause, the Assad regime appears to be the only thing preventing jihadist terrorists from taking control of the country and perhaps the chemical weapons stockpiles.
Moreover, Obama appears reluctant to commit troops to another military intervention in the Middle East, after ten years of conventional military quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After initially appearing enthusiastic about aiding Syrian rebels, the Obama administration eventually saw the extremist nature of the opposition and even designated one of the biggest rebel factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, as a terrorist organization.
Recent reports have established that Jabhat al-Nusra, and other al-Qaeda-linked jihadist factions like it, have become a key element in the Syrian opposition, despite repeated attempts by some in Washington to paint the rebels as freedom fighters.
In October, The New York Times published an article confirming that “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists.”
The Obama administration has done little about this, and has even participated in facilitating the delivery of some of those weapons.
Still, US military officials have been quick to point out the costs of war in Syria and the White House has consistently said that direct military intervention “would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.”