The White House and the Pentagon remain reluctant to get involved in Syria’s civil strife, but senior defense officials revealed Wednesday they are mulling military strike plans.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Obama administration will continue its policy of invoking “diplomatic and political approaches rather than a military intervention.” Panetta announced Washington is ready to provide $10 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.
Still, the defense chief revealed for the first time that U.S. officials are “reviewing all possible additional steps...including potential military options.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey is detailing potential options. It turns out there are lots of things we can do: “One option is a no-fly zone over Syria, Dempsey said. Another is an operation designed to get humanitarian supplies to besieged civilians. The Joint Chiefs chairman also said officials have examined a mission featuring ‘limited air strikes’ against regime targets, as well as a ‘maritime interdiction’ — presumably to intercept ships carrying weapons and other supplies meant for Assad’s forces.”
If this sounds familiar, it is. The White House, whether on Guantanamo or military trials for enemy combatants, crippling Iran sanctions or Libya, has brushed off conservative critics and resisted calls for more robust U.S. action against our foes. It as taken the pseudo-moral high-ground, dubbing its critics constitutional ignoramuses or warmongers. But then, after months of delay and sometimes thousands of lost lives, it has often meandered back to a position that isn’t all that different from the stance its political opponents have been arguing about for months (e.g. Gitmo is open; the administration is making use of military tribunals; President Obama used military force in Libya; and the president, kicking and screaming, signed onto the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions amendment).
On Syria, the administration dismissed Sen. John McCain’s call for military force just a few days ago. At the time, Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative e-mailed me: “As the death toll mounts and the Assad regime shows no sign of giving up power, the humanitarian case for intervention grows. The Obama administration appears intent on outsourcing our Syria policy to others, but only American leadership, including on the question of military intervention, will ensure that additional bloodshed is kept to a minimum and that our interest in seeing a democratic post-Assad regime emerge is fulfilled.” Now maybe there’s something to the use of military force after all.
But, of course, conservatives have been railing against Obama’s inaction for a very long time. Just a couple of days ago Mark Palmer and Paul Wolfowitz were urging we arm the Syrian opposition.
In February, a distinguished list of conservative foreign policy experts including Liz Cheney, Cliff May and Max Boot wrote to Obama, warning: “Unless the United States takes the lead and acts, either individually or in concert with like-minded nations, thousands of additional Syrian civilians will likely die, and the emerging civil war in Syria will likely ignite wider instability in the Middle East. Given American interests in the Middle East, as well as the implications for those seeking freedom in other repressive societies, it is imperative that the United States and its allies not remove any option from consideration, including military intervention.”
In November, Rachel Abrams, co-founder of the Emergency Committee for Israel, was warning:“If the Arab League’s sanctions have the sharpest sting—and the greatest shock value — for Assad, they nevertheless share one thing with censures by the U.S., Europe, and the UN — they’re gestures only; they do no more than demand an end to his barbarity.” She, too, advised that military action was the only appropriate response.
In September, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz wrote in The Post: “The arguments for supporting Syrian protesters are easily as strong as those mustered to save the people of Benghazi. After months facing the regime snipers’ machine guns, tanks and torture, demonstrators are openly calling for foreign intervention. And the regime’s strategic sins against the United States are far greater than those committed by the Libyan Nero. Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah — the two terrorist powerhouses of the Middle East — are Damascus’s closest friends. Almost every Arab terrorist group, spawned in the hothouses of Islamic militancy and Arab nationalism, has had a presence in Damascus.”
So how long — and how many dead Syrians will it take — before Obama adopts the McCain-Palmer-Wolfowitz-Cheney-May-Boot-Abrams-Gerecht-Dubowitz position on Syria? The longer he delays, the more suffering will occur and the more certain the mullahs in Iran will become that this president wants to avoid conflict at all costs.