Tony Badran’s assessment of current U.S. policy in Syria seems correct:
The recent formation in Doha of the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, and the news of Turkey holding talks with NATO over deploying Patriot missile batteries on its border with Syria, have spurred speculation that the U.S. has finally changed its posture and has adopted a more aggressive Syria policy.
However, this reading is overly hopeful. What’s more, it confuses the attempts by Washington’s allies to spur it into action with the actual policy thinking of the Obama administration.
As I said in my last column, the assumption that the U.S. would begin pursuing a more activist Syria policy after the election appears to have mistaken. That could change in the new year, but all indications for the moment are that the U.S. won’t budge on arming the opposition and doesn’t intend to support more aggressive measures. That naturally displeases advocates for U.S.-backed intervention, but it makes much more sense for U.S. interests to avoid deeper involvement.
It’s not clear why anyone should have expected a major change in policy after the election. As Badran points out, administration officials gave regional governments no reason to think that a change was coming. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the arguments for military aid or intervention are no more compelling now than they were last month or last year. He is right that the U.S. appears to be “staying out of the game,” but that’s a strange way to put it. There is no reason for the U.S. to participate in “the game” in Syria, just as there hasn’t been for the last year and a half. Assuming that Syria policy is being made with U.S. interests foremost in mind, why would the U.S. seek greater involvement in the Syrian conflict?
There will continue to be agitation for action from a few allied and client governments, and there will be the usual hawkish agitation for an activist Syria policy. It’s possible that this sort of pressure could eventually push the administration to make the mistake of intervening directly, but fortunately that seems unlikely at present. Depending on who fills the top Cabinet posts in the second term, U.S. Syria policy could change, but enough other matters will take priority over Syria that the U.S. might be able to avoid making another major blunder in the region.