Report: Pentagon reviewing military options on Syria, just in case; Update: Meanwhile, in Libya...

I don’t usually draft posts in advance but tonight I’m going to get cracking on the inevitable “New Syrian government dominated by Sunni fanatics” post. It may not run for another year or two, but it’ll run.

Will The One try to get congressional approval for this, I wonder, or will he “wing it” like he did in Libya? It’s a comfort to know that if he does go the unilateral route, the left will be on the case by smiling and doing nothing.

[T]he military is beginning to look at what can be done. One of the senior U.S. officials called the effort a “scoping exercise” to see what capabilities are available given other U.S. military commitments in the region.

Both officials pointed out that this type of planning exercise is typical for the Pentagon, which would not want to be in the position of not having options for the president, if and when they are asked for…

“The Pentagon is closely monitoring developments in Syria. It wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t put some ideas on the table,” one of the senior U.S. officials told CNN. “But absolutely no decisions have been made on military support for Syria.”…

The military’s work to analyze potential military options for Syria has been quietly going on for several weeks, two administration officials confirm to CNN. The bulk of the analysis is being done by staff of General Mattis, who would be the senior commander if the President were to order any action.

McCain, Graham, and Lieberman issued a we-are-all-Syrians statement tonight insisting that no options should be off the table and that we should think carefully about arming the rebels. The White House has apparently ruled that out; follow the CNN link above and read down for details. Meanwhile, Turkey is offering to host an international summit on how to stop the killing and aid the opposition, replete with provocative rhetoric about how “It is not enough being an observer.” To see what Syrians in Homs, the heart of the resistance and the site of the massacre last weekend, are up against, watch the two clips below showing rockets smashing into what appear to be civilian neighborhoods. According to a witness inside the city, it’s a relentless siege with Syrian troops having executed families, including stabbing children to death, as a message to rebels in the area to stand down.

If you’re worried about the U.S. intervening and being sucked into an endless sectarian clusterfark of all against all, remind yourself that Obama’s first priority then, now, and always is his own re-election. There’s a reason why the troops were pulled from Iraq, just like there’s a reason why it seems we’re ending our combat mission in Afghanistan a year early, and neither of those reasons has to do with strategic advantage in the field. Should O make a move here, he’s not going to commit significant military resources and risk a “quagmire” narrative springing up before the big vote. His base wouldn’t care about that but independents would, so if anything ends up happening, it’ll likely be a la Libya — logistical support for a coalition force, maybe some money and weapons to forces on the ground, and possibly some air power provided there’s no real resistance from Syrian (and Iranian?) missiles.

As for the merits of intervention, look at it this way: Apart from the humanitarian interest in stopping Assad from bayoneting more kids, the odds are exceedingly high that he’s on his way out. The public is way past the point of no return in the fierceness of its opposition, and according to one top military defector, the Syrian army is much weaker than thought and could implode at any time. (Judge for yourself whether that’s propaganda to make western countries think intervention would be a cakewalk.) If regime change is assured, then the White House naturally is thinking of how to ingratiate itself with the new regime — especially since Syria, unlike Libya, is the fulcrum of regional power and possibly a path to regime change in Iran too. Given the sort of Islamist nuts who will end up replacing Assad, any influence we earn later by intervening now will be weak and grudging. But some influence is better than none, especially if it can be done on the cheap, with little risk to U.S. servicemen, and in coordination with Turkey and Europe.

Or at least, that’s how the White House will argue it. Your exit question: Would U.S. intervention in Syria actually make things worse by enticing Iran and Hezbollah to increase their own presence there in a true proxy war? Shooting down U.S. aircraft would be a propaganda coup for them since they know how nervous Obama would be about continuing the mission if it turned dangerous. There’s also a risk of Russia increasing arms sales to Assad to help him repel the western coalition. Not only would they make money doing that, but it would send a message on Putin’s (and China’s) behalf that eastern powers aren’t thrilled with the idea of westerners encouraging grassroots protest movements against harsh authoritarian regimes. Like, say, Putin’s and China’s.

Update: No sooner had I hit “publish” than this story appeared on the Times’s website. I guess I’ll get cracking on the “New Syrian government struggles to restrain militias” draft too:

The country that witnessed the Arab world’s most sweeping revolution is foundering. So is its capital, where a semblance of normality has returned after the chaotic days of the fall of Tripoli last August. But no one would consider a city ordinary where militiamen tortured to death an urbane former diplomat two weeks ago, where hundreds of refugees deemed loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waited hopelessly in a camp and where a government official acknowledged that “freedom is a problem.” Much about the scene on Wednesday was lamentable, perhaps because the discord was so commonplace…

The militias are proving to be the scourge of the revolution’s aftermath. Though they have dismantled most of their checkpoints in the capital, they remain a force, here and elsewhere. A Human Rights Watch researcher estimated there are 250 separate militias in the coastal city of Misurata, the scene of perhaps the fiercest battle of the revolution. In recent months those militias have become the most loathed in the country.