by Ivan Eland, October 10, 2012
The argument goes something like this: Assad’s demise is inevitable, and post-Assad Syrians would be more friendly to the United States if it provides more assistance to their rebellion now. Using Western military assistance to Libya as a model, the fragmented Syrian rebels want the United States to provide arms for their forces, air cover for a no-fly zone to defend and protect rebel areas against Syrian government attacks by air, and offensive air power to complement insurgent ground attacks against the government. Right now, the Obama administration is providing only limited overt “non-lethal” communications and medical equipment and is covertly vetting opposition groups so that countries such as Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia can provide them weapons.
If the United States fails to provide such Libya-like assistance, the rebels’ argument is that Syrians will be enraged at the United States and that the civil war will last longer, both radicalizing Syrians to extremism — read: radical Islamism. Many conservatives and neoconservatives, trying to win points in the election against President Barack Obama (and perhaps because some actually believe it), are parroting the rebels’ line.
Obama, for now, is not taking the bait — likely because any escalation would run big risks before an election in which he still has the advantage. Of course, this calculus could change dramatically after the election, no matter who wins.
However, better reasons exist for Obama — or Romney, should he be elected — to avoid being baited into entrapment in the Syrian civil war. The most important reason to eschew Libya-like escalation is not risk before an election but that the ultimate outcome might resemble that of … well … Libya.