Capitulating to the Constant Pressure for Escalation
Marc Lynch bemoans Obama’s decision to arm Syrian rebels:
President Obama’s move to increase the public flow of arms to selected Syrian rebels is probably his worst foreign policy decision since taking office.
It’s disputable whether it’s the very worst, but it is certainly one of the two or three worst foreign policy decisions Obama has made. By itself, the decision to send weapons to at least some of the rebels wasn’t the worst thing Obama could have done, and as Lynch says it won’t make much difference on its own, but it still deserves scorn because it is both unnecessary for the U.S. and almost guaranteed not to have any good effects in Syria. Coming under fire from people agitating that the U.S. “do something” or “do more,” Obama has agreed to do something “more” while seeming to have no confidence that it is worth doing.
It is telling that virtually no one thinks it is worth doing by itself. Most Syria hawks have been demanding this measure only as the first step towards greater U.S. involvement, and everyone else in the debate has been rejecting it as useless or harmful, but there is no one that believes that this is what U.S. Syria policy ought to be. That is why the decision is so disturbing and foolish. The U.S. almost never scales back a foreign commitment and sooner or later opts for increased direct involvement. The administration has put itself in an untenable position of promoting a policy that no one can defend in good faith while ceding the initiative to the hawks that want a much bigger commitment. Syria hawks recognize the capitulation for what it is, and have wasted no time in clamoringfor much more.
Lynch notes that this is already starting to happen:
The real problem with Obama’s announcement is that it shatters one of the primary psychological and political footholds in the grim effort to prevent the slide down the slippery slope to war. He may have chosen the arming option in order to block pressure for other, more direct moves, like a no-fly zone or an air campaign. But instead, as the immediate push for “robust intervention” makes obvious, the decision will only embolden the relentless campaign for more and deeper U.S. involvement in the war. The Syrian opposition’s spokesmen and advocates barely paused to say thank you before immediately beginning to push for more and heavier weapons, no-fly zones, air campaigns, and so on. The arming of the rebels may buy a few months, but when it fails to produce either victory or a breakthrough at the negotiating table the pressure to do more will build. Capitulating to the pressure this time will make it that much harder to resist in a few months when the push builds to escalate.
This has happened in every major debate over the use of force for the last twenty years, so it’s not as if this should come as a surprise to anyone in the administration. There is always concerted pressure to escalate the U.S. role in foreign conflicts, and every time there is remarkably little organized resistance. Last week’s decision proved that Obama will eventually give the hawks what they want.