Last year, Barack Obama ended up humiliating himself after drawing a red line for American military intervention in Syria, having his bluff called — and then suffering a rebuke from Congress, failing to win approval for action. The failure to build support for such action even with a year in which to work on Capitol Hill demonstrated the empty recklessness of Obama’s rhetoric and undermined his credibility and American authority in the region. Its echoes continue to this week, when everyone scoffed at Obama drawing a line on Ukraine’s actions against its opposition. They’re taking their signals from Russia, which Obama ended up doing after the faceplant on Syria.
That may soon change, according to Olivier Knox at Yahoo News. The White House has begun quietly looking at military options for intervention in Syria, especially those which will not require Congressional approval. The focus has fallen on al-Qaeda and the still-extant Authorization to Use Military Force from just after 9/11:
Efforts to broker a diplomatic settlement between Assad and moderate rebels show no promise right now. Russia and China have blocked any effort by the United Nations Security Council to tighten the pressure on the regime in Damascus.
But senior intelligence officials late last month opened a new path for Obama to increase U.S. involvement in a way that wouldn’t require congressional authorization, could minimize a public backlash, and might give Syria’s moderates some breathing room.
How? By telling Congress that Syria increasingly serves as a base, not just a battleground, for extremist groups looking to someday attack the United States.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper compared areas of Syria held by groups the United States considers terrorists to remote areas of Pakistan that are thought to harbor Al-Qaeda. Those groups have “aspirations for attacks” on the United States, he told the Senate Intelligence Committee. …
Likening Syria to Yemen raises the possibility that America could widen its much-criticized strategy of targeting extremists with drone strikes.
Congressional officials say that the idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles against targets in Syria has gained currency inside the administration in recent weeks, but caution against expecting an imminent shift, much less announcement of a new policy.
The sudden discovery of AQ involvement in Syria is baffling, for a couple of reasons. First, we’ve known about it all along, and second … they’re nominally fighting against Bashar al-Assad and on the side of his opposition. The impulse to use military strikes in Syria was to punish Assad, not one of his enemies.
This is a simplification, of course, because these days AQ and its allies are mostly killing the moderate rebels that made the fatal mistake of allying with them against Assad in the first place, while Assad is killing everything that moves. The idea, one supposes, is to strike against AQ to bolster the moderate rebels in their fight against Assad, but that just allows Assad to focus on the moderate rebels and let the US take on the so-called “extremists.” And this all presupposes that we can tell the difference, when we’ve had a lot of issues doing that in the past.
This raises all sorts of questions about the politics involved, too. Will Obama launch another undeclared war against a dictator without Congressional approval in an election year? With support for even the Afghanistan war approaching a minority position, the electorate won’t be terribly keen on yet another intervention with no clear aim, or even target in this case. It’s going to be difficult for Democratic incumbents to defend both ObamaCare and another ill-defined military adventure all at the same time.
If Obama really wanted to get AQ out of Syria, he wouldn’t take aim there — but in Iraq. The government in Baghdad has had to refight the war in Anbar and the western part of Iraq that we had won by 2008 against al-Qaeda in Iraq, now called ISIS, which has metastasized since into an international menace. Attacking ISIS in their eastern front in Iraq would not only help bolster the elected government we left behind in Baghdad, it would draw ISIS out of Syria and take the pressure off the moderate rebels there without us having to guess who’s who. But that would take a little more political risk by re-entering Iraq, and I suspect drone attacks over Syria is the path of least resistance.