By: Dr. Trevor Thrall
A bipartisan group of senators called on President Obama last week to take military action in Syria. The suggestions ranged from arming the “right rebels” to missile strikes. Senator John McCain argued that it would not be long before Assad decided to use chemical weapons again and that the U.S. could use precision strikes against Syria’s chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.
Given the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and the escalating price of the war in Syria, the increased interest in U.S. intervention is understandable. But to succeed in Syria Obama will need to find three things that are likely to prove elusive.
First, Obama needs to find Syria’s chemical weapons. Given how portable they are and the difficulty the world has had in pinning down who used them in the first place, the idea of a targeted effort to reclaim them seems Quixotic at best. Beyond that, you can’t use missiles to get rid of chemical weapons without endangering everyone in the area – McCain should know better.
Second, Obama needs to fight a group of rebels worth arming. The difficulty of predicting which group will wind up aligned with U.S. interests should be obvious given America’s history.
Third, Obama needs to find a reason why getting more deeply involved is truly in the U.S. national interest. Taking the next step, whether by backing a specific rebel group or by launching missile strikes, seems very likely to ensure that the U.S. will wind up even more deeply engaged down the road with the U.S. eventually having to take responsibility for getting rid of Assad. That job, however, cannot be completed without boots on the ground. And in spite of increasing pressure from Congress, vague concerns about spillover effects and the possibility of an Islamist regime will not provide Obama with enough to convince the American public to launch a costly engagement in Syria.