Don’t Believe the Scary Headlines of Impending US War in Syria

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National security reporter Josh Rogin published a big scoop on Syria yesterday: “The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria.”

According to one administration official, “The White House is still in contemplation mode but the planning is moving forward and it’s more advanced than it’s ever been.”

Haven’t we been seeing these headlines warning of a U.S. war in Syria ‘any minute now’ for a long time? About a month ago, The Washington Post reported “President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S. leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.” People thought the final straw had broken the camel’s back. I thought, ‘I’ve heard that before.’

David Kenner at Foreign Policy provides a short round-up of such dire “scoops” going back more than a year ago:

May 3, 2013: “U.S. Considering Arming Syria Rebels.” –Radio Free Europe

April 5, 2013: “The White House … is reviewing a new set of potential military options for assisting rebels in Syria.” –Wall Street Journal

March 15, 2013: “CIA begins sizing up Islamic extremists in Syria for drone strikes” –Los Angeles Times

Feb. 26, 2013: “U.S. moves toward providing direct aid to Syrian rebels” –Washington Post

Feb. 7, 2013: “Pentagon leaders favored arming Syrian rebels” Washington Post

Dec. 3, 2012: “The White House has been loath to make a direct intervention in Syria but clearly indicated Monday that the use of chemical weapons could change the equation.”-AFP

Nov. 28, 2012: “The Obama administration, hoping that the conflict in Syria has reached a turning point, is considering deeper intervention to help push President Bashar al-Assad from power.” –New York Times

Feb. 22, 2012: “Shelling of Homs resumes as U.S. signals possibility of arming Syrian opposition” –Al-Arabiya

Feb. 8, 2012: “International ‘militarisation’ in Syria growing closer, warns US official” –Telegraph

As I’ve consistently argued, the Obama administration’s policy of indirectly arming the rebels through Saudi Arabia and Qatar and meddling in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey has worsened the situation considerably. But the rather obvious reluctance to get involved in Syria militarily arises out of a sober reckoning of stark realities which have yet to change. And therefore, there has been little to no change in actual policy.

To get a better idea of where the Obama administration is on Syria, we’d do better to ignore such sensational media headlines and pay close attention to what administration officials and their public advisers say. The President himself has stated U.S. military intervention “could trigger even worse violence,” adding that, “We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation” in conflicts around the world.

Obama’s chief of staff and foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough told The Washington Post this week that, “the reason that the president is being very discerning about how we react to the situation in Syria” has “very much to do with the president’s humility in recognizing the challenges of intervention in this region of the world, which is shown, I think in stark relief, with the situation in its neighbor — namely, Iraq.”

On arming the rebels, a senior White House official told The New Yorker‘s Dexter Filkins earlier this month, “If we’re not careful about who gets weapons, we’ll be cleaning that up for years. We saw that movie in Afghanistan.”

“In Syria, the regime-controlled areas are interspersed with the rebel-controlled areas, so a no-fly zone is not going to stop the killing,’’ [Benjamin] Rhodes [Obama’s deputy national-security adviser] told Filkins. “Once the violence became sectarian, you can’t cover every neighborhood from the air.” And, “What happens when the rebels keep losing?’’ a senior defense official asked reporter Dexter Filkins rhetorically. “What happens when civilians keep getting killed? They will ask us to do more. And we’ll already be in. We will be invested in an outcome.”

Robert Gates, former Obama administration official, told CBS earlier this month that intervention in Syria would be “a mistake.” Summing it up nicely, he asked “Why should it be us” that intervene?

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Carter adviser who has been known to advise the Obama administration on foreign policy, wrote in Time magazine earlier this month that a U.S. intervention “would simply make the situation worse,” and that, “none of the proposals would result in an outcome strategically beneficial for the U.S.”

The realities on the ground which have led Obama to conclude that a U.S. war would be too costly and conspicuously ineffective have not changed. The administration probably leaks out these scary headlines of impending U.S. action to the American press in order to frighten the Assad regime into cooperating in the Geneva negotiations planned for next month.

The pressure on the administration to intervene is increasing by the day, and it could conceivably work, eventually. But for now, the same scary headlines we’ve been seeing for more than a year should be taken with a grain of salt.

14 thoughts on “Don’t Believe the Scary Headlines of Impending US War in Syria”

  1. The headlines are more likely for Americans than for Assad. I don't think the Syrians are budging regardless of what Obama prattles about. The reality is the US has been calling for regime change from day one, stoked the fires from day one, opened the channel up for warfare and militias to flow freely into Syria, and given tacit international creditability to expat Syrians even handpicked a few to try and create some assembly. And still, it's not working –Syria is not listening to Obama.They are listening to Russian weapons and Iranian intelligence and Chinese trade and a strengthen Syrian Nationalism. That's what is working for them.

    Obama et al have to decide, will the US continue down the path of reinforcing sectarianism? Because that is who they are funding. I don't care if they find the oddball expat Syrian Kurd or Syrian Armenian to prattle talking points to a Western press. The reality is the US has from day one propagated a Sunnis v Alawite warfare and instead, Obama ends up strengthening Syrian nationalism.

    On another note, Rhodes is a glorified creative writer turned Lee Hamilton, then, Obama speechwriter, turned deputy national security adviser. His bit about Iraq is a false hand. The reality is Libya blew up in their faces and their little proxy war model began to go to pot. Then Mali started to flare… And guess, what? Immediately ending the 2012 election, Obama et al stop repeating "Assad's days are numbered" got kind of stupid after day 500 but the clear point is –Obama is playing a game of bluff. And everybody at the table knows this. Turkey is overextended. has its own elections coming up, can't risk US privateers training Islamist. uh, freedom fighters…so the official shift went over to Jordan…but it's getting stupider by the minute. Qatari cash flow decreased, so Saudi picked up slack. Kerry dumps cash into the pot, but eventually the writing is on the wall -either Obama will have to match Saudi dollar for dollar, or pull the plug. Money is Obama bluffing and Assad is all in.

  2. Glaser just doesn't get it at all.

    Anyone with a brain can see the slow progression of movement toward foreign military intervention.

    The EU puts Hizballah on the terrorist list., thus justifying US/NATO attacks on Lebanon as well as Syria.
    The EU removes the arms embargo against the Syrian insurgents to keep the conflict going, also thus justifying foreign military intervention.
    The Syrian insurgents move to attack Hizballah in Lebanon, widening the war and thus "justifying" US and Israeli military intervention against both Syria and Hizballah.
    The US Congress is totally on board with attacking Syria.

    Glaser continues to drink the Obama Kool-Aid that somehow Obama isn't interested in attacking Syria and Lebanon, despite the strategic FACT that such attacks are NECESSARY before an Iran war can be conducted. That is all that matters in geopolitics: the goals and the strategic facts.

    1. There appears to be a misunderstanding.

      So whatever American administration it is is not seen as the aggressor, "Covert Action" or "Black Ops." were developed.

      The doctrine is "Plausible Deniability". In other words to quote Eisenhower. who invented the phrase " It should not be obvious, but if it becomes obvious, there should be plausible deniability", which is what he is supposed to have ordered when briefed of Harry Truman's Covert Ops.

      Which his right up Obama's street, given his modus operandi at home.

      He does not want any more PR disasters after Jugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan, Irag.

      Particularly not Iraq with millions marching across the world.

      This means he ALREADY HAS attacked Syria, being happy yo continue the Neo-Cons plans.

      Use of paramilitaries rather than own troops, large sums of money to organise support in the country, bases for paramilitaries in nearby country, and the use of Cut-Outs to supply arms, provide funding and provide arms – like Qatar, Saudi, Britain and France – that way it's of the ledger.

      1. But he's not going to abandon this and go for an open attack, particularly as he can't get UN cover.

        Meanwhile he's not going to abandon his cover and go for an oipen attack.

        But there is a heap big problem, most of the paramilitaries recruited were Jihadist fundamentalists, because only they are good at fighting . it was not intended for this to go on so long. Assad was supposed to run away. His army leadership was supposed to arrange a coup as in Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia.

        So now what do we do if it gets out we have been using those Jihadist fundamentalists that are highly dangerous and are fighting in Afghanistan………..

  3. I'm a bit "confused" here about a number of things:

    First and foremost, what exactly are you saying Glaser? Is your advise to your so-called 'readers' and/or people who identify themselves as "Antiwar": 'not to worry', 'remain complaisant', DO NOTHING!!!…as Master Obama has this 'situation' well under control?!?! Under all circumstances: Do NOT be "vigilant", as big federal Government Master Obama is at the helm???

    WTF????

    Glaser…Is your self-perceived function to 'coddle' for the Obama Administration?

    Yeah…I really appreciated the 'advanced notice' "we", the "US PEOPLE", received before the whole 'Libya' thing…that was nice of Obama…

    Yes…those "founders" hated "vigilance", as well as "facts"; however, that's a separate 'issue' and 'discussion' entirely…

  4. The headlines are more likely for Americans than for Assad. I don't think the Syrians are budging regardless of what Obama prattles about. The reality is the US has been calling for regime change from day one, stoked the fires from day one, opened the channel up for warfare and militias to flow freely into Syria, and given tacit international creditability to expat Syrians even handpicked a few to try and create some assembly. And still, it's not working –Syria is not listening to Obama.They are listening to Russian weapons and Iranian intelligence and Chinese trade and a strengthen Syrian Nationalism. That's what is working for them.
    Obama et al have to decide, will the US continue down the path of reinforcing sectarianism? Because that is who they are funding. I don't care if they find the oddball expat Syrian Kurd or Syrian Armenian to prattle talking points to a Western press. The reality is the US has from day one propagated a Sunnis v Alawite warfare and instead, Obama ends up strengthening Syrian nationalism.

    So, Syrian nationalism is up and Obama is considering a no fly-zone? Where in Syria can Obama risk flying jets and helos when Syria has mobile air defense? Do they think Israel pierced Syrian air defense or were they allowed to fly? What's the bigger risk for Syria a) lose a tactical bombing raid to Israel and give up precious intel on air defense –or b) let them go, then find the ground moles? hmm. Maybe Obama can get Turkeys to fly in this mysterious 'zone'! sounds like a bluff.

    On another note, Rhodes is a glorified creative writer turned Lee Hamilton, then, Obama speechwriter, turned deputy national security adviser. His bit about Iraq is a false hand. The reality is Libya blew up in their faces and their little proxy war model began to go to pot. Then Mali started to flare… And guess, what? Immediately ending the 2012 election, Obama et al stop repeating "Assad's days are numbered" got kind of stupid after day 500 but the clear point is –Obama is playing a game of bluff. And everybody at the table knows this. Turkey is overextended. has its own elections coming up, can't risk US privateers training Islamist. uh, freedom fighters…so the official shift went over to Jordan…but it's getting stupider by the minute. Qatari cash flow decreased, so Saudi picked up slack. Kerry dumps cash into the pot, but eventually the writing is on the wall -either Obama will have to match Saudi dollar for dollar, or pull the plug.

    Money on Obama bluffing and Assad all in.

  5. What makes US Government to think before getting involved into this war? As usual US will show up their forces when they think this war should be stopped.

    No oil? No gold? No intention?

  6. Stupidity is a sin. Many people here are blaming our government for the troubles in the Middle East. Sunni and Shia have been fighting long before Obama was born. Those two hate each other due to religious differences. They will continue to kill each other, hate Israel, USA and Europe. America is not the world police. We have enough problems here. Iraq cost us trillion of dollars and thousand of deaths. NO MORE WARS.

  7. Putin has already installed a No-Fly Zone for NATO & the USA with his sending advanced ant-aircraft defense plus 10 new Migs to Syria. Obama won't be going there. Checkmate Putin.

  8. First of all Obama supports the Syrians hes a muslim
    and Russia is supplying arms to Assad
    if you cant see a war looming your either a complete idiot
    or your working with assad !

    There wil be a war
    and the Whole World will see it
    Ezekiel 38 read it
    and Russia and Turkey , Iran and Ethiopia are also going to be involved
    then they turn on Israel
    and GOD will turn them to toast

    i am so amazed at how people dont see this right now
    it just a matter of time ! BOOM !!!

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