The regional atmosphere is completely different. There was a virtual unanimity in the Arab world in opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Now, to the contrary, virtually the entire Sunni Arab world, along with Turkey and others, are desperately looking for American leadership on the Syria question [bold mine-DL]. Outrage at any proactive American backing of Syrian rebels will be restricted almost entirely to Shiite and other sectarian minority groups. The overwhelming regional majority will either welcome or tolerate it.
It’s very important here to distinguish between what the governments of these countries may want and what public opinion is throughout the region. There is strong opposition in Turkey to Western military intervention and to Turkish involvement in the conflict. Broad disapproval of Erdogan’s Syria policy is one factor among many fueling the protests against his government. Regional opinion has been strongly against Western military intervention, and there hasn’t even been that much support for military intervention led by Arab governments. Regional governments are taking a much more activist approach to the conflict than their publics want, and there is simply no desire for Western powers to exercise “leadership” here.
Except for Jordan, majorities in several Arab countries and in Turkey all oppose arming the opposition, and support for this measure does not increase that much when the military aid is being provided by Arab governments. There is no strong desire among most Sunni Arabs for American involvement in the conflict. That means that the U.S. risks provoking outrage in much of the region. Hawks often exaggerate and oversell the popularity of their proposed policies in the region that will be affected, and Syria hawks are no exception.
Of course, there are important differences between the Iraq war and the escalation in Syria that Ibish wants, but they have three things in common that should give everyone pause: 1) military intervention in Syria would be just as illegal as the invasion of Iraq, but wouldn’t even be able to hide behind the pretext of enforcing U.N. resolutions; 2) as in Iraq, it would likely expose the minority communities to reprisals, massacres, and expulsions; 3) it would be an entirely unnecessary war that serves no discernible security interests of the U.S., and it might even end up undermining those interests.