Good question. Clearly, the Obama administration wants to build up some kind of momentum for another intervention in the Middle East, and has Republican hawks like John McCain on board already — but interventionism has waned in the GOP thanks to the influence of the Ron/Rand Paul movement. The Washington Post says that liberal hawks may be reluctant to commit and give Barack Obama enough support to make a robust intervention because of being burned on Iraq, but that’s the wrong lesson and the wrong model:
For interests on both sides of Syria’s civil war, this has been the week to increase the pressure. Hezbollah sent reinforcements to the troops of President Bashar al-Assad, and Russia reiterated its intention to furnish the regime with weapons. At the same time, Republican Sen. John McCain secretly visited rebels and promised to push the Obama administration to arm the retreating forces. The European Union allowed its weapons embargo to lapse as nations such as Britain and France appear increasingly eager to aid the opposition fighters.
But amid the burst in outside engagement, one influential group seems noticeably silent. The liberal hawks, a cast of prominent left-leaning intellectuals, played high-profile roles in advocating for American military intervention on foreign soil — whether for regime change or to prevent humanitarian disasters. They pressured President Bill Clinton to intervene in Bosnia, provided intellectual cover on the left for President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and urged President Obama to engage in Libya. But even as the body count edges toward 100,000 in Syria and reports of apparent chemical-weapons use by Assad, liberal advocates for interceding have been rare, spooked perhaps by the traumatic experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and the clear reluctance of a Democratic president to get mired in the Middle East. Call them Syria’s mourning doves.
I’ll take a pass on that awful terminology, thank you very much.
The lesson in this case isn’t Iraq, except perhaps politically at home for the liberal hawks who got pilloried as dupes for George Bush. It’s not even the correct model. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention came with a robust American presence on the ground to dictate outcomes — although in retrospect, not robust enough in either theater at first. It took years and plenty of fighting with insurgents and tribal militias to allow a central government and a security force to take shape and control the ground. In neither case did that mean an end to violence, but at least in both cases it didn’t mean a failed state — yet, anyway, and it’s unlikely to happen at all in Iraq, at least.
The intervention model in Syria, on the other hand, will be Libya. Obama and the EU (through NATO) conducted a 30,000-foot intervention that succeeded in decapitating a tyrannical regime but created a power vacuum on the ground in eastern Libya. Not only did that result in the sacking of our consulate in Benghazi — which was preventable even under the circumstances had the threat been taken seriously in Washington — but it also allowed al-Qaeda to organize a war in Mali. Only a French military intervention, this time with boots on the ground, managed to push the radical Islamist terrorists back.
On top of that disaster, Obama burned his bridges with hawks of both liberal and conservative stripes on his Libyan intervention by refusing to get Congressional approval for the war on Moammar Qaddafi. Had he done so, Obama would almost certainly have won approval; at the time, the skeptics were outnumbered by Arab Spring cheerleaders, with the liberal hawks in the vanguard. Instead, he stiffed Capitol Hill and played a shell game with NATO to claim that Congressional approval was no longer necessary. After getting burned by Obama, the liberal hawks aren’t going to be lining up to provide Obama political cover on Syria.
The only way a Western intervention in Syria makes sense with Assad on one side and Jabhat al-Nusra on the other is with a massive land invasion that wipes out both. If the West isn’t ready for that kind of commitment — and it’s clearly not in the range of possibilities — then we should stay out of it and let the Syrians et al fight it out among themselves.