Flashback May 17, 2013: Foreign Policy magazine reports Obama rules out unilateral action in Syria as Russia ships advanced missiles to Assad
Top News: U.S. President Barack Obama again ruled out unilateral U.S. military action in Syria at a press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday. "It's not going to be something that the United States does by itself. And I don't think anybody in the region would think that U.S. unilateral actions … would bring about a better outcome," the president said, promising to "keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition.”Pentagon Crafts Limited Strike Plans for Syria
A U.S. official said the Pentagon has crafted military options for limited U.S. air strikes in Syria that would send a message to the regime of President Bashar al Assad not to continue using chemical weapons against its civilians. There has been no presidential decision to use the military options, and U.S. intelligence continues to investigate an apparent large-scale chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime this week that may have killed as many as 1,000 civilians.Ready to Act
The official said the military options developed for consideration by the White House are limited in scope and would be intended to “deter or prevent” the Assad regime from the further use of chemical weapons.The options are not intended to remove the Syrian president, who has tenaciously hung on to power as Syria’s two-year civil war has raged on.
Traveling on a plane to Malaysia, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel confirmed to reporters that Obama had asked the Pentagon to provide military options in Syria in light of the reported use of chemical weapons against civilians by the civilian government.
“The Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies,” Hagel told reporters yesterday while en route to Kuala Lumpur, where he starts a week-long visit to the region. “That requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets to be able to carry out different options, whatever option the president may choose.”"Wide Range of Options"
Military options include the repositioning of personnel and assets including ships, so as to be ready if the president chooses a military intervention, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
Obama is under increased pressure to intervene in Syria amid allegations that President Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical arms in an Aug. 21 attack in a Damascus suburb that opposition groups say killed 1,300 people.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on the world to respond “with force” to any use of chemical weapons.
Iran’s foreign ministry warned against any international military action in Syria today, saying that intervention would heighten tensions in the Middle East.
“There are no international authorizations for a military intervention in Syria,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi was quoted as saying by the state-run Iranian Students’ News Agency. “We warn against any moves or announcements that would result in further tensions in the region.”
The White House says President Barack Obama is meeting with his national security advisers to discuss possible next steps in Syria.Lose-Lose Proposition
The meeting comes amid reports that the Syrian government has carried out a toxic-gas attack near Damascus on August 21.
A White House official said in a statement Washington had "a wide range of options available."
Hagel said Obama had asked the Pentagon to prepare military options for Syria, and that some of these options "require positioning our forces."
The Obama administration should resist the temptation to intervene more forcefully in Syria’s civil war. A victory by either side would be equally undesirable for the United States.Maintain Stalemate Says Luttwak
At this point, a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not be damaging to American interests.
Indeed, it would be disastrous if President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were to emerge victorious after fully suppressing the rebellion and restoring its control over the entire country. Iranian money, weapons and operatives and Hezbollah troops have become key factors in the fighting, and Mr. Assad’s triumph would dramatically affirm the power and prestige of Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanon-based proxy — posing a direct threat both to the Sunni Arab states and to Israel.
But a rebel victory would also be extremely dangerous for the United States and for many of its allies in Europe and the Middle East. That’s because extremist groups, some identified with Al Qaeda, have become the most effective fighting force in Syria. If those rebel groups manage to win, they would almost certainly try to form a government hostile to the United States. Moreover, Israel could not expect tranquility on its northern border if the jihadis were to triumph in Syria.
The war is now being waged by petty warlords and dangerous extremists of every sort: Taliban-style Salafist fanatics who beat and kill even devout Sunnis because they fail to ape their alien ways; Sunni extremists who have been murdering innocent Alawites and Christians merely because of their religion; and jihadis from Iraq and all over the world who have advertised their intention to turn Syria into a base for global jihad aimed at Europe and the United States.
Given this depressing state of affairs, a decisive outcome for either side would be unacceptable for the United States.
There is only one outcome that the United States can possibly favor: an indefinite draw.
By tying down Mr. Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington’s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America’s allies.
That this is now the best option is unfortunate, indeed tragic, but favoring it is not a cruel imposition on the people of Syria, because a great majority of them are facing exactly the same predicament.