The Best Case Scenario in Syria
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON is Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relation.See more by this author
It has been one year since U.S. President Barack Obama commented that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would constitute the crossing of a red line, one that would “change my calculus; that would change my equation.” His resolve was first tested this spring, when, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allegedly unleashed chemical weapons on his opponents, the White House announced that it would provide small arms to the rebels. A reluctant Congress held up the weapons’ delivery, which seemed to put an end to the matter. But now, the Obama administration is being tested once more. As evidence mounts that the Assad regime launched a massive chemical weapons attack last week, Obama can either make a full commitment to get involved in the bloody conflict or decide to stay out of it once and for all. By all appearances, the second option is off the table. Just how far the United States might venture, though, is still up in the air.
Over the last few days, the president’s national security team has huddled to consider possible military responses to the chemical attack. On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that U.S. Navy forces are already moving nearer to Syria’s shores should the White House decide to strike at the Assad regime with Tomahawk cruise missiles. And on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry called the “indiscriminate slaughter of civilians” a “moral obscenity” and cautioned that “Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” Moments later, White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that the administration is “considering responses” to the chemical attack, which is a “distinct problem that requires a response.”
At this point, of course, the pros and cons of military intervention are already well known: On the one hand, as the State Department and others have argued, U.S. involvement could prevent the rebels’ defeat, support moderate allies, avert the collapse of the state, and help stem a refugee crisis. On the other, as U.S. military leaders have hinted in letters to Congress, intervention would be costly, potentially bloody, and likely futile -- a replay, some might say, of Iraq and Afghanistan, which to date have yielded neither victory for the United States nor stability for the region.