According to a report in The New York Times, the White House is “considering several alternatives” to intervention in the Syrian civil war, but remains leery about the backlash of sparking a wider conflict—even as time runs down on how or whether to step in. Among the options being considered are providing arms directly to Syrian rebels, or even sending in CIA officers to support the opposition fighters, report David Sanger and Eric Schmitt. A more likely scenario involves putting Patriot missiles in Turkey to deter Syrian bombing runs near the border, a plan that is already in the works by NATO allies.
To this point, the United States has only offered humanitarian aid and diplomatic support, which has done little to change the course of the war. However, like most outside observers, the Obama administration senses that Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered. A not-so-gentle push from the U.S. could finally knock him over, but more importantly, if the administration does nothing and he falls anyway, then Americans will get no credit (or favors) from whoever takes his place.
The problem, of course, is that the Syrian opposition is highly fractured and likely includes several active terrorist groups. Simply handing over weapons to them is a not simple task, and one that could come back to haunt the U.S. Even if the Obama administration could accurately predict who is most deserving of military help, once the weapons reach Syria they could eventually end up anywhere—even with Assad, or worse, in Iran’s hands.
The White House decision-making is no doubt clouded by their experience in Libya. During the Arab Spring, Libya was the only country to actually get American military assistance and a substantial CIA presence on the ground. Then it became the first country in over 30 years to see an American ambassador murdered. On the other hand, the Libyan intervention probably prevented that country from looking like Syria does now. Videos like the one below—the aftermath of a residential building in Aleppo leveled by barrels full of TNT—are an almost daily sight now as the war appears to be near a breaking point. Power and phone service has reportedly been cut to most of the country’s major cities and the Damascus airport is rumored to be totally shut down today. If the U.S. is going to intervene, it better make up its mind quickly.