As I read Goldberg's commentary and other articles in Press, my understanding evolves on this quandary which Obama Administration faces in Syria while civilian deaths mount. Where I am tending to differ what I said earlier is:
- How hard it will be for President Obama to 'regret few years' after Presidency about the failure to halt civilian deaths in Syria; but have then achieved the core objective of not entangling America in yet another global mess?
Yes, to say let civilian deaths continue without any intervention is absolutely an abhorrent way of conducting foreign policy. It goes against basic conscience of most decent folks. But then again, duty of President is to protect America and to serve interests of Americans first. In today's times, those are still served best by not getting involved in yet another foreign engagement. That is the 'call' of Obama Administration; more one thinks, it seems right.
There are number of other powerful reasons why Administration wants to be reticent in these matters. I list those not in any particular order:
1. The most basic reason seems to be that Administration is 'not sure' who are the folks who will succeed Assad Government. If those are Sunni extremists who are less amenable to American interests, what good it is to change the government? When these extremists gain power and start slaughtering Alawites and other non-Sunni sects in Syria (remember it has simply descended into a sectarian war at this stage); the same Media will hold Obama Administration responsible to stop those killings. At that point, Administration may have to undertake 'peace enforcing force on ground'. Once the imperatives of war start unfolding; there is not stopping back with more danger for spilling of American blood. The same cheerleaders who are holding this administration's feet to fire for non-intervention; will flip on dime and will start criticizing the administration for inevitably difficult chapters of any foreign intervention.
2. Remember all the criticism Obama Administration received in extending tacit support to Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (not that it had much of a winning hand in all other fractious Egyptian Opposition political groups)? Egyptian President Morsi was thought to be reasonable; but how reasonable has he turned out to be? What Egypt teaches here is unless America is sure about new incoming regime is solidly aligned with American interests and is capable of carrying its duties; it is essentially counter-productive to spend American blood and treasure in undertaking these costly and uncertain regime changes; no matter how anti-humanitarian that approach is. Administration should pursue global collective action (in conjunction with Russian, Europe, Turkey and UN) in stopping civilian killings, but it need not be a sole operation.
3. It also seems Israel is reasonably comfortable in the current state of affairs, in some sense. Having a strident Sunni regime in next door Syria is not easy for Israel whereas trouble maker Assad is fully bogged down in this civil war. The ensuing chaos helps Israel to undertake stealth or not so stealth attacks at will and that addresses its immediate security concerns. From Israeli perspective decreasing popularity of Hezbollah among Sunni Arabs, as it backs anti-Sunni Assad regime, is a good thing.
So yes, as Zakaria pointed out; President made the mistake of 'loosely talking about red lines'; but that damage is far less compared to potential damage of entering Syrian quagmire for the sake of enforcing consequences of defying 'red lines'. Administration can wait until coming Iranian Elections. There is not much benefit in giving fillip to hard-liners in that election by a Syrian intervention on the cusp of that election. After the election, for a new Iranian President; there is a room to calibrate the Iranian response to Syrian conflict as well as to start responding to Western entreatments of abandoning nuke program. At that time, Administration will be in a better position to pursue inter-twined policies for Syria, Iran and Middle East with a lesser fog.