Polls consistently show most Americans oppose direct military involvement in the Syrian civil war. But that changes with the presumption that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons.
In deciding to provide weapons to rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – too late, in the view of many critics – President Obama correctly senses the reluctance of most Americans to engage in foreign wars not clearly tied to national security.
Older Americans remember the sketchy basis for escalating the war in Vietnam (the now-discredited Tonkin Gulf Resolution). Younger people remember the questionable Bush administration argument for the US-led invasion and then occupation of Iraq (those elusive “weapons of mass destruction”).
There are other reasons for Obama’s caution in providing military aid to the Syrian rebels – even light arms and not the heavy weapons they want. For one thing, some of those insurgents have ties to al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups.
Obama feels the political pressure to act now that the “red line” he set – government forces in Syria using chemical weapons against rebels and civilians – has been crossed. Britain, France, and Israel already had already cited the use of chemical weapons. Obama is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this coming week, and Libya surely will be discussed.
Plus, there’s his philosophical and political disinclination to approach what could be a slippery slope. (Remember the talk about “leading from behind” in Libya – a phrase never uttered by Obama but attributed to an advisor?)