Fareed Zakaria correctly observes that Obama has “caved” to Syria hawks by approving additional aid for the “moderate” opposition:
The Obama administration’s decision to seek $500 million to train and fund elements of the Syrian opposition has been greeted with bipartisan support in Washington. The general consensus is that, if the administration had done this three years ago, the situation in Syria would not have turned into a sectarian civil war. But this conventional wisdom is wrong. The administration is caving in to the classic Washington desire to “do something” in the face of a terrible situation without any clear sense as to whether it would improve things or make matters worse.
Zakaria is right about this, but it’s important to add that this is what Obama has done many times in the face of incessant foreign policy criticism. While he has usually been reluctant to give in to demands from mindless interventionists at first, his resistance tends to wear down sooner and later, which leaves him backing half-baked measures that make no sense on the merits and inevitably satisfy no one. He ends up endorsing a policy that he doesn’t fully believe in and doesn’t think will succeed so that he can say that he has “acted,” and by splitting the difference between intervention and no involvement Obama pursues a course of action that can’t possibly achieve the ambitious goals the administration has set for itself. Meanwhile, he succeeds in increasingly ensnaring and implicating the U.S. in the conflict as time goes on, and he encourages hawks to keep pressing for him to “do more” in the confidence that if they just keep haranguing him often enough he will make another concession.
We have seen this when he originally gave in to demands to arm elements of the Syrian opposition last summer, and it is why he initially felt compelled to enforce the so-called “red-line” with military action. Obama could have easily refused to concede anything to hawkish critics in these instances, but each time he has seemed to favor mistaken policies to provide a sop to these critics and to maintain the pretense that U.S. “leadership” has played a significant and constructive role in the ongoing conflict. In the end, it is this attachment to playing the role of global “leader” that keeps trapping Obama into doing things that even many in his own administration must know don’t make any sense, because he doesn’t really believe–and therefore can’t convince anyone else–that the U.S. shouldn’t be taking sides in Syria. The trouble isn’t just that Obama has caved to the conventional wisdom on Syria several times over the last few years, but that he fully subscribes to the misguided belief in the necessity and indispensability of U.S. “leadership in Syria and everywhere else. As long as he believes this, he will keep finding himself in the absurd position of being pulled in the direction that the hawks want to take him.