According to this article from the Telegraph, at least one pro-Syrian-opposition lobbyist in Washington thinks the Obama administration’s decision not to intervene any further in the Syrian conflict is made primarily due to the demands of the electoral cycle, and that it may change after Obama wins reelection. The title of the article is “US refuses to help Syrian rebels until after election.”
“Basically the message is very clear; nothing is going to happen until after the election, in fact nothing will happen until after inauguration [Jan 2013]. And that is the same message coming from everyone, including the Turks and the Qataris,” said a Washington lobbyist for the group.
I’m not so sure about this. It’s certainly possible that the administration is holding off on more substantial military action – direct or indirect – until after the election when the president doesn’t have to walk on egg shells in anticipation of heavy criticism from Republicans and the electorate. But I doubt it, if for no other reason that the potential political fallout that would materialize from a foolish decision to intervene in Syria is approximately the same now as it will be in January. Sure, Obama doesn’t have to worry about getting reelected, but he still has four more years of shameless political self-promotion, image-shaping, and legacy-molding.
Every decision made by a presidential administration is political, but the Obama administration’s objections to further intervention in Syria have been largely strategically based. As White House spokesman Jay Carney said in May, “We do not believe that militarization, further militarization of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action. We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.” This is the opinion of even most hawks in Washington, with the exception of people like McCain and Graham.
In February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said “military intervention has been absolutely ruled out.” She also said that while she is “incredibly sympathetic” to calls for intervention, “it is also important to stop and ask what that is and who’s going to do it and how capable anybody is of doing it.” She went on to say “we really don’t know who it is that would be armed” and to ask rhetorically:
what are we going to arm them with, and against what? You’re not going to bring tanks over the borders of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. That’s not going to happen.
So maybe at the best, you can smuggle in automatic weapons, maybe some other weapons that you could get in. To whom, where do you go? You can’t get into Homs. Where do you go? And to whom are you delivering them? We know al-Qaida. Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al-Qaida in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?
These seem like fundamental objections to further interventions on a logistical and a strategic level. It doesn’t sound like campaign rhetoric or evasion to me. True, it was shortly after these statements that the US began to aid the rebels with non-lethal support and to facilitate other countries (like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey) in aiding them with weapons. But this decision seemed political, rather than the other way around. Last week I wrote a lengthy blog post objecting to former CIA case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht’s call to elevate the conflict to a CIA proxy war. But there was one thing he wrote that I agreed with to a large extent:
Press reports already suggest that a rudimentary, small-scale CIA covert action is under way against Assad. But these reports, probably produced by officially sanctioned White House leaks, reveal an administration trying not to commit itself. According to Syrian rebels I’ve heard from, the much-mentioned Saudi and Qatari military aid—reportedly chaperoned by the CIA—hasn’t arrived in any meaningful quantity.
There is such a broad consensus in the military and academic establishment against more direct action in Syria, that it seems the Obama administration’s decision to nominally support the rebels was a political decision meant to deflect criticism that they were doing nothing. As the same Telegraph article noted:
the Syrian Support Group (SSG), the political wing of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), recently presented American officials with a document requesting 1,000 RPG-29 anti-tank missiles, 500 SAM-7 rockets, 750 23mm machine guns as well as body armour and secure satellite phones. They also asked for $6m to pay rebel fighters as they battle the regime. All their requests were rejected.
So, if this report is true, the administration has rejected opportunities to expand on their current (if feigned) policy of supporting rebel militias. If the administration’s aim is to protect themselves politically, I can’t see how they could possibly believe that an intervention post-election could possibly fulfill that goal.