"[Obama] told his staff during recent Situation Room meetings as American naval and air power was moved into the eastern Mediterranean that no United States intervention would alter the long-term balance of power in the Syrian civil war. That was the bitter lesson of the Iraq and Afghan wars for Mr. Obama: any American president who thinks that, by dint of force or example, he can change the nature of societies is bound for a comeuppance. For him, that was the fatal flaw of the George W. Bush presidency, an unquestioning belief that once America defeats a dictator, a newly freed populace will step in to shape the wreckage into a country more in the American image.
That was a bad bet in Iraq and a worse one, Mr. Obama has argued, in Syria. It explains why, when he justified the Libya intervention in 2011 on humanitarian grounds, he was quick to explain that the United States could not move to oust every despot — only the ones, he seemed to suggest, who could be ousted with minimal risks to Americans.
But Syria looks nothing like Libya. It cannot be won from the air, or with missile strikes. Thus Mr. Obama’s insistence that any action in Syria has to be divorced from the civil war that has torn the country to shreds. Instead, the president wants to fight on territory more directly linked to American interests: the notion that once weapons of mass destruction are used in ordinary conflict, the potential for disaster — for America, and certainly for its allies and partners on Syria’s borders — rises dramatically."
I agree in part with President Obama and David Sanger's conclusions.
Several weeks ago, nearly 1,500 civilians were slaughtered in the rebel-controlled outskirts of Damascus by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, using sarin gas. True, more than 100,000 Syrians have died in the civil war over the past two and a half years, and what is 1,500 relative to 100,000? Dead is dead. Moreover, this is not the first time that Assad has used chemical weapons during the fighting. On the other hand, if Obama does not finally say "no," when will this criminal activity end? I believe that "simple" morality is a compelling basis for taking measures to diminish Assad's offensive capabilities.
I also agree that Syria and the rest of the Muslim Middle East are not ripe for American-style democracy.
But the conflict in Syria cannot be "won" from the air? In fact, Assad has been able to take the offensive against the rebels owing predominantly to air power.
Can Assad's air force and air fields be neutralized from afar using Cruise missiles? Answer: Yes.
Moreover, although Syria cannot be reshaped in America's image, there is a significant pro-American Kurdish minority in Syria's northeast that is hungry for independence. Were the Kurds to be given autonomy, might this not count as an American victory? Sanger's analysis does not consider the Kurds.
Meanwhile, America's Procrastinator-in-Chief has decided to seek Congressional approval before launching any attack against the Assad regime. Once again, Assad, Khamenei and Putin are learning that Obama is incapable of taking action without prolonged hesitation. Unfortunately, any limited attack following ultimate Congressional approval is only apt to augment their contempt for the US president.
"To do nothing in the face of images of children killed by poison gas would cripple [Obama's] credibility in the last three years of his presidency."
I would argue that to do "next to nothing" would have the same deleterious effect.