With Syria, Barack Obama has a mess. The Assad regime almost certainly used gas against its own people, killing hundreds of civilians including children. However, the American public is tired of entering into foreign conflicts in that part of the world and many do not trust the intelligence that points to Assad.
Obama, in some ways, is stuck between foreign policy decisions of two previous administrations. On the one hand, Bill Clinton says that his greatest regret is not intervening in Rwanda before the genocide that killed millions of Tutsis. Obama does not want the same regret in Syria.
On the other hand, George W. Bush made a major public relations push to garner support for an invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately for everybody, the case was based on false evidence. Consequently, much of the world, as well as many Americans, don’t trust the intelligence community or Obama’s evidence.
Conservatives have criticized Obama for lacking a coherent foreign policy, but the Bush Doctrine turned out to be an utter disaster. In fact, nobody seems to have come up with a successful strategy to deal with the Middle East since the end of the Cold War. So far, though, military intervention has not seemed to work well at all.
My problem with striking Syria is that I doubt it will change the direction of the civil war and might make matters worse. The Obama Administration, along with hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, argue that we lose credibility if we don’t respond to the gassing of civilians. I would argue that we lost credibility when we invaded Iraq for no real reason.
A strike might make Obama, McCain and company feel less impotent but it would piss off Russia and China, countries that value stability over human rights. In addition, it would please the rebels who, as far as I can tell, aren’t that much different from the people we’re fighting in Afghanistan and who attacked our embassy in Libya.
I understand that there are no good answers in Syria or much of anywhere in the Middle East. It seems to me that our best bet in dealing with that region is to untangle our “strategic interests” and try to help with the aftermath. Our attempts to change behavior sure haven’t worked.