The good news from Obama’s press conference today is that he didn’t take the bait offered to him by the last questioner on Syria. These were the two questions he was asked:
France has recognized the opposition coalition. What would it take for the United States to do the same, and is there any point at which the United States would consider arming the rebels?
Obama responded by mostly avoiding answering both of these questions. The gist of his remarks was that the U.S. isn’t prepared to recognize the opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of Syria, and the U.S. is still reluctant to provide arms to Syrian rebels because of concerns about who would acquire them. Obama didn’t absolutely rule out either move, but anyone looking for hints that he supported recognition of the opposition or arming them now was disappointed. Things could change in the new year, but so far it appears that the U.S. is resisting pressure to be pulled into yet another foreign conflict.
For the time being, that suggests that the administration’s earlier reluctance to become more directly involved in Syria’s conflict was not simply an election-year pose. There appears to be a real aversion to a new commitment in the region, and now that Petraeus is out there is one less advocate for greater involvement inside the administration. Despite what some hawks would like to see, French recognition of the opposition as the “sole representative and the future government of a democratic Syria” doesn’t seem to have affected the U.S. position, and there’s no reason that it should. France has more of an interest in what happens in Syria than the U.S. does, it has historic ties to the country, and after being pulled into an unnecessary conflict by our allies in Libya the last thing the U.S. needs to do is to repeat the experience.