Most Americans Oppose Obama Administration’s Incoherent Syria Policy

Two polls indicate that most Americans oppose the President's latest moves on Syria. This makes sense considering actual policy there seems to be entirely incoherent.

Syria Civil War

Last week, we learned that the Obama Administration had officially certified that Assad regime in Syria had used chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels, albeit on a very limited basis given the overall scope of a civil war that has lasted more than two years now. In response to that, the Administration has apparently decided to take a step that the President had been resisting for some time and begin sending arms to the Syrian rebels. Unanswered so far is the question of exactly who they’d be sending arms to and what kind of arms would be sent, although preliminary reports indicate that it would consist mostly of small arms and body armor rather than heavier, more powerful, material such as anti-tank or anti-aircraft weaponry.

Whatever the details are, though, a new Pew Research Center poll finds that the vast majority of Americans are opposed to the idea:

Americans overwhelmingly oppose arming anti-government groups in Syria even as a new U.S. policy looks to do just that, a poll posted on Monday says.

According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Americans don’t want the United States and allies to send arms and military supplies to those factions challenging Syrian dictator Bashar Assad; 20 percent support that strategy. The Obama administration, however, has decided to send such aid to some elements of the Syrian opposition.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said the opposition forces “may be no better than the current government.” Still, more than half also said it “is important for the U.S. to support people who oppose authoritarian regimes,” 53-36 percent.

Digging deeper into the poll, it’s clear that this is a position the crosses all party lines:

There is very little partisan divide in attitudes about the conflict in Syria. Majorities of independents (74%), Republicans (71%) and Democrats (66%) oppose the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria.

Nearly identical majorities of Democrats (69%), independents (69%) and Republicans (68%) also believe that U.S. military forces are too overcommitted to get involved in another conflict.

Independents (66%) and Republicans (64%) are most concerned that the opposition groups in Syria may be no better than the current government, but 52% of Democrats also agree with this statement.

By a 58%-38% margin, more Democrats agree than disagree that the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence in Syria. Republicans are split with 49% saying the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence, and 48% saying it does not have this responsibility. Most independents (53%) disagree that the U.S. has a moral obligation to stop the violence in Syria.

There are similar numbers in a new Gallup poll:

PRINCETON, NJ — The slight majority of Americans — 54% — disapprove of the Obama administration’s decision to send direct military aid to Syrian rebels fighting against the Syrian government, while 37% approve. Those who are following the situation in Syria closely — about half of the public — are significantly more likely to approve of the decision than are those who are not following the situation closely, although a majority of both groups disapprove.

These results are from a June 15-16 Gallup poll conducted just after the Obama administration announced that it directed the CIA to provide direct military aid to the Syrian rebels. Prior to this announcement last Friday, the administration had been opposed to providing military aid. The administration stated that part of its rationale for the shift in policy was its conclusion that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against the rebels.

(…)

A slight majority of Democrats (51%) approve of the provision of military aid to the Syrian rebels, no doubt reflecting the fact that the decision to do so was made by a Democratic president, although more than four in 10 Democrats disapprove. Independents and Republicans react much more negatively, with roughly six in 10 disapproving.

Republicans’ disapproval may be tied as much to their general opposition to Obama as to the policy itself, given that some Republican leaders, most notably Sen. John McCain, have come out publicly in favor of assisting the rebel fighters in Syria.

I don’t know how to explain the differences between the Pew and Gallup numbers other than to suggest that the questions asked may have been radically different and to remind everyone of Gallup’s problems while polling for the 2012 election. In any case, though, it seems fairly clear from both polls that the American people are far from convinced of the wisdom of the new policy turn that seems to be going on regarding Syria, which is one of the reasons that the Obama Administration’s decision to change policy now is so confusing.

For one thing, there isn’t anything new on the ground today that wasn’t there a year ago, or even two years ago. The one major difference in terms of the war itself is that the Assad regime seems to be on a run of great successes against the rebels, but the truth is that this war has had several ebbs and flows to it on both sides from the beginning and its entirely possible that the current status on the ground will change in the coming months. The other part of the Administration’s policy that doesn’t make much real sense is the fact that it has been the apparent use of limited quantities of chemical weapons that has become the impetus for further American involvement in the war. As I’ve noted, the war itself has been going on for more than two years, since it began in February 2011 when the anti-government protests were sweeping the Arab world. In that time, at least 93,000 people, and according to some non-official estimates as many as 120,000, have died. According to the reports regarding the chemical weapons attacks, they were responsible for, at most, the deaths of about 150 people, which is itself an indication that they were used in a limited way and, quite possibly, not entirely without the  proper authority. It’s true that chemical weapons have been the subject of special world attention ever since the end of World War One, indeed even the Soviets and Germans didn’t used them during the most desperate hours of the fighting on the Eastern Front. Nonetheless, if it is a good idea to send arms to the Syrian rebels  now (a position with which I agree disagree), why did it take the use of chemical weapons to get even a minimal response from the Administration on the issue of arming the rebels?

The only conclusion I can reach is that the Administration, and the West as a whole, doesn’t really have a coherent Syria policy at this point. Clearly, there’s a desire to avoid making the same mistakes that were made in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s why continue to hear officials insist that there are no plans for American “boots on the ground,” even though the reality is that there are very likely American CIA operatives and Special Forces members embedded with the rebels and providing both assistance and acting as reconnaissance back to a Washington that doesn’t seem to understand who these rebels actually are even while it moves to get behind them. At the same time, though, you can see the Administration being pulled by the “humanitarian” wing of those advising  Obama to do something to help the Syrians. That’s what makes the recent appointment of Susan Rice as National Security Adviser and Samantha Power as U.N. Ambassador so interesting, although I noted at the time that neither one of them seems very eager for further intervention in Syria judging by their public statements. Added on top of this are people outside the Administration ranging from John McCain to Bill Clinton who are pressuring the President to act.

In the midst of all of this, it’s difficult to determine exactly what Administration policy in Syria actually is, and whether it has even thought a few moves of the chessboard forward to determine what the impact of current policy on the future might be. For example, has their been any discussion of who exactly these Syrian rebels are, and how we’re going to ensure that the arms we will apparently be providing won’t be going to the al Qaeda linked elements that everyone admits have become an important part of the rebel military forces? What happens if Americans delivering supplies are captured by one side or the other while doing so? If we go forward with a no-fly zone, how will that be implemented without creating an inevitable confrontation with the Russians, who are making clear yet again that they cannot support the idea of a no-fly zone? Finally, and most importantly, has anyone give the slightest bit of thought to what the future of a post-Assad Syria might be, and how we’d guarantee that it wouldn’t turn into a factional war of all against all that would make post-Saddam Iraq seem like paradise? Based on how they’ve conducted their policy to date, and the utter failure to communicate anything regarding it clearly, I can only assume that they haven’t come up with real answers to any of these questions. As long as that’s the case, I doubt the public will ever rally around a Syria policy that really doesn’t seem to have any purpose at all.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Intelligence, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Spartacus says:

    Doug wrote:

    Nonetheless, if it is a good idea to send arms to the Syrian rebels now (a position with which I agree), why did it take the use of chemical weapons to get even a minimal response from the Administration on the issue of arming the rebels?

    What is the purpose sending small arms to a group we know very little about? Apparently, sending these arms won’t tip the power balance in favor of the rebels. At best, it can only result in more people getting harmed.

    The U.S. has no interests at stake in this civil war and sending arms cannot result in less human suffering in this situation.

  2. stonetools says:

    In the midst of all of this, it’s difficult to determine exactly what Administration policy in Syria actually is, and whether it has even thought a few moves of the chessboard forward to determine what the impact of current policy on the future might be

    Actually I think the Administration is indeed thinking ahead. It sees clearly that outright victory by Assad and Iran is not in the USA’s best interest, so it is doing what it can to slow down that train.It’s the opponents of the Administration policy who are not thinking further than “There are no slam dunk easy options available right now” and who seem to miss that the Syrian civil war appears to be spiraling into a regional conflict, within just about every country doubling down on its involvement.

    What I’d like is less talk about how “dangerous” or “incoherent ” the policy change is, and what Doug or anyone else thinks would be a “better” policy.The Administration critics are pretty good at pointing out all the downsides of the policy change , but they are silent on what would be a better option, or why doing nothing would work out well for us. (So far, doing nothing has led to a worsening of the conflict and a narrowing of options). I suspect that is because they know there IS no better option , and that doing nothing isn’t going to do us any good.

    If things continue on the present course and Assad and Iran crush the rebels with lots of bloodshed, I guarantee that:

    1. The right wing will crank up the “Who Lost Syria” symphony.
    2. Liberals will wring their hands and wonder if we could had done more to avert “genocide”.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:
    And if the rebels win with our help we’ll bear responsibility for their genocide and have to explain why we are involved in a 1400 year-old religious war.

    There’s no good answer, but I think the better answer might have been to stay out of this.

  4. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    The Administration critics are pretty good at pointing out all the downsides of the policy change , but they are silent on what would be a better option, or why doing nothing would work out well for us. (So far, doing nothing has led to a worsening of the conflict and a narrowing of options).

    You’ve failed to point out how the worsening of the civil war in Syria has harmed U.S. interests and how taking steps that absolutely no one thinks will help bring the war to an end furthers U.S. interests.

    Again, what is the purpose of sending small arms to combatants in a civil war with whom we are almost completely unfamiliar? How are legitimate U.S. interests furthered by this?

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I honestly don’t understand what our objectives WRT Syria might be. If our objective is to reduce the loss of innocent human life, there’s one approach we might have tried some time ago: support Assad. Encouraging the rebels hasn’t ended the bloodshed but prolonged it.

    If it’s to hand the Iranians (and Russians) a strategic defeat, I don’t see how maintaining a low profile implements that.

    If it’s to allow Hezbollah and Al Qaeda to fight each other to exhaustion (Dan Drezner’s idea), we’re doing just fine. Lamenting the loss of life and drawing “red lines” probably hasn’t furthered that objective.

    I’m just baffled. ‘Splain me, Lucy.

  6. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: plus, they have no oil!

  7. TastyBits says:

    Contrary to American beliefs, the US cannot dictate how the world look. Actually, the graybeards understand this, but these lessons have been lost. Senator McCain should fully understand the outcome of the actions he advocates.

    Many Americans are going to be very unhappy until they accept that there other global players, and those global players have a different view of how the world should look.

  8. stonetools says:

    Actually, the President has laid out a clear statement explaining the decision here. It concludes:

    The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline. Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity.

    Now you may disagree that the USA has any business in seeking a political settlement to the war, securing stockpiles of “unconventional” weapons, or establishing a stable government in Syria: but you really can’t say that Obama hasn’t articulated his goals. If you believe that in sending arms to the rebels is the wrong way to achieve these objectives, then you need to explain what the right way is.

  9. Dave says:

    I think a lot of people would love to see Assad and his regime go, we just can’t bring ourselves to support the heart munchers either. The best we can do is work to limit the fallout by relieving whatever refugee stress is being put on Jordan, Lebanon, and perhaps Iraq. Send direct humanitarian aid to the refugees and other financial aid to the governments of those countries. It wouldn’t take all that much to bribe enough tribes and factions to sit things out. Turkey can take care of itself.

  10. Andy says:

    @stonetools: Issuing a wish-list is not the same thing as strategy.

    Let’s go over the wish list in turn:

    – achieve a negotiated political settlement: This is a civil war – what power does the USA possess to achieve this outcome? How does arming rebels achieve this? If anything, it prolongs the civil war.

    – provide basic stability: Again, not something the US can do.

    – Administer state institutions: We can do that how? Arming rebels helps state institutions how?

    – Protect the rights of all Syrians: What rights? Involving ourselves does what exactly?

    – securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons: Arming rebels works against this aim. The surest way to secure unconventional weapons and conventional arms to ensure Assad wins.

    – countering terrorist activity: Many of the rebels are what we in the west would call “terrorists.” Arming them counters terrorist activity how?

    The Administration critics are pretty good at pointing out all the downsides of the policy change , but they are silent on what would be a better option, or why doing nothing would work out well for us.

    You have it backwards. Anyone proposing a specific policy needs to justify that policy. The minimal standard is to show that the policy would be better than doing nothing. It’s not up to critics to come up with a “better” course of action to show that the proposal sucks. Few of the issues raised in this post from Feb 2012 have been addressed by advocates for intervention in the Syrian civil war. Vague notions of principles, goals and wishful thinking are not in the interest of the US. Until someone can actually put forth a strategy then the best course of action is to do nothing.

  11. stonetools says:

    @Spartacus:

    The U.S. has no interests at stake in this civil war

    You may think that.But no foreign policy expert anywhere believes this , including people who have lived in the region, who speak the language and who teach about the Middle East. Even people who wholeheartedly oppose sending arms to the rebels agree that US interests are at stake in the war and that the success of Assad in defeating the rebels would be a strategic loss for the USA.

    This article lays out the consequences of an Assad victory:

    1. The refugee crisis will collapse the already-fragile regional humanitarian response.

    2.. Iran and Hezbollah will be empowered…. Given the stunning rebel defeat there, Hezbollah is expected to send even more fighters to Syria. Hezbollah has also deployed a contingent to Aleppo where Assad’s army is planning an assault to retake the city. Advances by Assad’s army would also scatter rebel fighters to Syria’s borders and spawn more deadly conflict across the region. Twin bombings linked to Assad’s forces in the border city of Reyhanli, Turkey in May killed 51 people and injured 140 and are sure to be the first of many violent cross-border exchanges. Skirmishes in northern Lebanon have unsettled that country’s delicate sectarian balance and threaten to cause devastating violence there as well. And in Iraq, where Al-Qaeda weapons and money are flowing unchecked between Syria’s radical Al-Nusra Front and the anti-Maliki opposition, the backlash is inflaming an already tense sectarian situation that risks the very durability of Iraq’s weak government.

    3. Assad regime forces will exact revenge against the Sunni-majority opposition and perpetrate mass sectarian atrocities.

    Now maybe we can live with all that. But let’s not pretend that an Assad victory would be all unicorns and rainbows for the USA. There will be immediate destabilizing effects in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. And this doesn’t even count what Iran will do next, once its resources and proxy forces are freed up in Syria. The Gulf States (where the oil comes from ) have restless Shia minorities. There is a reason the Gulf States are all in for the rebels. They know Iran’s likely next move. Its only Americans who don’t know the region who are oblivious to these possibilities

  12. Andy says:

    @stonetools:

    But let’s not pretend that an Assad victory would be all unicorns and rainbows for the USA.

    Who is pretending that? Are we to believe a rebel victory would be all unicorns and rainbows? The critics of arming the rebels point out the obvious lack of any good options.

  13. TastyBits says:

    @stonetools:

    … If you believe that in sending arms to the rebels is the wrong way to achieve these objectives, then you need to explain what the right way is.

    If the US wants to influence Syria and Iran, the US needs to establish military bases in Iraq, and these will need 20,000+ troops. The US will need to establish anti-aircraft batteries to secure Iraqi airspace. The US can then send in forward air controllers to direct the airstrikes. The “moderates” can be armed, and it will be understood that they are protected by the nearby troops.

    Once the “moderates” are running the place, they same protection will be extended to them. The leases for the Russian naval bases can be revoked, and they can be told to pack-up and leave. If the Russians balk, the US will need to get tough with them, but this may have an impact for the Afghanistan region.

    Hoping for a good outcome should not be the basis for foreign policy. Reality should be. Either go all-in or stay all-out. I have yet to see any half-ass policy work.

  14. stonetools says:

    @Andy:

    – achieve a negotiated political settlement: This is a civil war – what power does the USA possess to achieve this outcome? How does arming rebels achieve this? If anything, it prolongs the civil war.

    The USA has called for an all parties talk in Geneva. Most experts agree that absent some change in the military situation, which is going against the rebels, there will be no Geneva talks. Sending arms to the rebels is the only way anyone can think of to prod Assad into going to Geneva. Even people who hate the idea of sending arms to the rebels can’t think of any other way to get Assad to the table. Repeated calls asking for Assad to talk with the rebels have not worked.
    Again, if we don’t arm the rebels, they’ll lose outright, and sooner rather than later. Until recently, there was hope that they could hold out and “bleed Iran dry”, the way Afghanistan did the Soviets. But now it looks like they’ll just lose outright. Again, if we can live with that, fine.But it will cause all sorts of trouble for us and our allies in the Middle East. Let’s not pretend it won’t.

  15. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    This article lays out the consequences of an Assad victory

    1. The refugee crisis is the result of the civil war – not the result of Assad staying in power. There was no refugee crisis until the rebels attempted to throw Assad out of power.

    2. As for this strange belief that by sending small arms to Sunni rebels are advancing U.S. interests by hurting Shia Iran and Hezbollah, I’ll simply re-post my response from another thread:

    Iran is not our enemy. They haven’t attacked us; they haven’t supported an attack against us; they haven’t argued for sanctions or attacks against us; and we haven’t declared them an enemy. They pose absolutely no threat whatsoever to the U.S. None of that is in dispute. We want them not to exercise their right to develop nuclear energy capabilities and not to say mean things about Jews. That’s not an enemy.

    and

    So Hezbollah is going to launch an “operation” against the U.S. from Syria? I don’t think that’s going to happen. Moreover, Hezbollah has been entrenched in Syria for decades and they’ve posed no threat whatsoever to the U.S. If they launch more operations against Israel, Israel will respond militarily as it has always done and it will do so without any involvement by the U.S.

    How on earth are the defensive anti-aircraft missiles Russia sent to Syria be a threat in any way to the U.S.?

    How on earth can Iran’s evasion of economic sanctions constitute harm to U.S. when those sanctions produce absolutely no benefit to the U.S.? Those sanctions do about as much good for the U.S. as do the sanctions we’ve had on Cuba for the past 65 years. IOW, they’re nothing more than b.s. that is completely unrelated to our security whose only purpose is to satisfy certain domestic constituencies.

    3. Assad will exact revenge on the Sunnis or the Sunnis will exact revenge on the Shias. That’s the very nature of a religion-based civil war. See also Iraq.

  16. TastyBits says:

    @stonetools:

    … Sending arms to the rebels is the only way anyone can think of to prod Assad into going to Geneva. …

    Nixon had the same problem. Should the US send the B-52’s? It might work this time.

  17. stonetools says:

    @Andy:

    Who is pretending that? Are we to believe a rebel victory would be all unicorns and rainbows? The critics of arming the rebels point out the obvious lack of any good options.

    Actually, there are people saying that an Assad victory would be no loss for us. See Spartacus and Doug above. I’m just saying we should be honest about the downsides of doing nothing.
    I agree that a rebel victory would pose its own set of problems. My point is that no option-including doing nothing- is cost-free.

  18. Andy says:

    @stonetools:

    The USA has called for an all parties talk in Geneva. Most experts agree that absent some change in the military situation, which is going against the rebels, there will be no Geneva talks.

    And those “experts” are fools. Neither side has the least interest in “negotiating” though they have every interest in appearing to be reasonable and go through the motions.

    @stonetools:

    My point is that no option-including doing nothing- is cost-free.

    Of course no option is cost free. If one believes arming the rebels is better, then one needs to explain exactly why.

  19. @Spartacus:

    Please see my edit to the sentence you quoted. I need to stop writing while talking on the phone….

  20. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    Actually, there are people saying that an Assad victory would be no loss for us. See Spartacus and Doug above.

    Please describe how the U.S. can be made worse by the mere maintenance of the status quo? Assad has ruled Syria for about 20 years, but all of a sudden the U.S. will be made worse if he continues his rule even though (1) he poses absolutely no threat to us, and (2) unlike Mubarak in Egypt, none of Assad’s adversaries will blame the U.S. for propping up a dictator.

  21. stonetools says:

    Iran is not our enemy. They haven’t attacked us; they haven’t supported an attack against us; they haven’t argued for sanctions or attacks against us; and we haven’t declared them an enemy. They pose absolutely no threat whatsoever to the U.S. None of that is in dispute. We want them not to exercise their right to develop nuclear energy capabilities and not to say mean things about Jews. That’s not an enemy.

    I didn’t respond then, because I thought it so self-evidently wrong. I guess I’ll have to respond now.
    The point is that Iran IS our enemy. Their leader regularly refers to us as the Great Satan. That’s not Persian for friend. They have repeatedly opposed our efforts in the ME, have backed terrorist groups, and have through proxies attacked our ally, Israel. No foreign policy expert thinks of Iran as anything but an opponent of the USA. You may think that we are not the enemy of the Iranian government. You would be a member of a very small church. I have no doubt that the Iranian government thinks of the USA as an enemy of Iran.

    We want them not to exercise their right to develop nuclear bomb capabilities

    FTFY. Again, no knowledgeable person doubts that Iran is trying to get the atomic bomb. US policy is to prevent that and that’s in accordance with UN treaty obligations.

    So Hezbollah is going to launch an “operation” against the U.S. from Syria? I don’t think that’s going to happen. Moreover, Hezbollah has been entrenched in Syria for decades and they’ve posed no threat whatsoever to the U.S. If they launch more operations against Israel, Israel will respond militarily as it has always done and it will do so without any involvement by the U.S.

    Hezbollah has been entrenched in Lebanon. That’s not Syria. Syria would represent a new theater for operations against Israel. No one thinks that this would be helpful for Israel or the US , Israel’s arm supplier.

    How on earth are the defensive anti-aircraft missiles Russia sent to Syria be a threat in any way to the U.S.?

    Again, you are laboring under the misapprehension that US interests don’t include the security of US allies. I’m just going to say that no foreign policy expert agrees with you on this and move on.

    How on earth can Iran’s evasion of economic sanctions constitute harm to U.S. when those sanctions produce absolutely no benefit to the U.S

    The sanctions are in service of the long term US goal of preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb, which is also in accord with US obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty and which is supported by both allies and non-allies of the USA. So you disagree with that policy. That doesn’t mean the US isn’t right to carry it out.

  22. Spartacus says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I could tell from the rest of your post that you did not agree with sending arms.

  23. stonetools says:

    @Andy:

    And those “experts” are fools. Neither side has the least interest in “negotiating” though they have every interest in appearing to be reasonable and go through the motions.

    Disagreeing with the opinion of these experts doesn’t make them fools.Now will the negotiations succeed? Maybe not. If there NO negotiation, there won’t be any chance of a settlement.

    Of course no option is cost free. If one believes arming the rebels is better, then one needs to explain exactly why.

    I did that. You rejected my explanation. Cool. We’ll agree to disagree.

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    @stonetools:

    If those are the objectives, we should be supporting Assad.

  25. stonetools says:

    Please describe how the U.S. can be made worse by the mere maintenance of the status quo?

    Because no war results in the status quo ante bellum. You may think that Iran and Hezbollah won’t see this as a victory, and be emboldened to take further action, but I can guarantee you that this won’t be the prevailing view in the Middle East, and this doesn’t even address the refugee problem, the spread of rebel fighters through the Middle East, etc.

    he poses absolutely no threat to us,

    Sigh . But he and his ally Iran poses a threat to US allies. Please let go of the idea that a threat to US allies should be of no concern to the USA. It’s not a convincing argument.

  26. stonetools says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    If those are the objectives, we should be supporting Assad.

    That ship has sailed, for good or ill.

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:
    Israel appears to prefer Assad and they are our chief ally in the region. As for Turkey they have more than enough power to top the balance all by themselves. So why are we involved?

  28. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    The point is that Iran IS our enemy. Their leader regularly refers to us as the Great Satan. That’s not Persian for friend. They have repeatedly opposed our efforts in the ME, have backed terrorist groups, and have through proxies attacked our ally, Israel. No foreign policy expert thinks of Iran as anything but an opponent of the USA.

    So, they’ve called us names and they have opposed some of the things we’ve tried to do in the ME. I’m having a hard time distinguishing that conduct from what France did in the lead up to the Iraq war.

    They’ve backed groups that we’ve labeled as terrorists. Israel backs the MEK, which we’ve also labeled as a terrorist group, but Israel is clearly not an enemy.

    Your reliance on “foreign policy experts” is misplaced.

    We want them not to exercise their right to develop nuclear bomb capabilities

    But that’s not the nature of the dispute between the U.S. and Iran. Iran hasn’t enriched uranium for military purposes. They’ve enriched it only for non-military purposes and the U.S. has taken issue with this because of our view that it’s only a short step from there to uranium that can be enriched for military purposes. As a party to the NPT, Iran has a right to enrich uranium for non-military purposes and we’re imposing senseless, inhumane sanctions to stop them.

    Syria would represent a new theater for operations against Israel. No one thinks that this would be helpful for Israel or the US , Israel’s arm supplier.

    The issue is not whether this would be helpful to the U.S. I never argued it would. I’ve maintained that the U.S. isn’t hurt by it Hezbollah’s presence in Syria. And as I pointed out, Israel has always defended itself against Hezbollah without assistance by the U.S. The history shows that this is not a problem that requires U.S. involvement.

    WRT to defensive anti-aircraft missiles, you wrote:

    Again, you are laboring under the misapprehension that US interests don’t include the security of US allies.

    The U.S. has never taken the position that neither Syria nor any other country has the right to install defensive anti-aircraft missiles. We’re not even taking that position now. It’s a strange argument that U.S. interests are hurt when another sovereign country develops defensive capabilities.

    The sanctions are in service of the long term US goal of preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb, which is also in accord with US obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty and which is supported by both allies and non-allies of the USA.

    So what actions must Iran take in order to get the sanctions lifted? Obviously, not enriching uranium for non-military purposes is insufficient. So describe what Iran needs to do.

  29. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    But [Assad] and his ally Iran poses a threat to US allies. Please let go of the idea that a threat to US allies should be of no concern to the USA. It’s not a convincing argument.

    Okay, I finally understand your argument: We should send arms to AQ-affiliated Sunni combatants in a religion-based civil war in the Middle East because the other side in that war is backed by a country that really, really dislikes Israel. We should do this even though absolutely no one believes sending small arms will make any difference in the outcome of that civil war or advance legitimate U.S. security interests. And, we should be comforted in taking this action because it is supported by many “foreign policy experts,” almost all of whom supported Bush’s war in Iraq.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  30. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Israel appears to prefer Assad and they are our chief ally in the region

    Does Israel prefer Assad? Not really-they’ve bombed Assad a few times. I doubt they would prefer an Assad more beholden to Iran and Hezbollah, and armed with modern Russian weaponry. That’s a different Assad than pre-civil war.

    As for Turkey they have more than enough power to top the balance all by themselves. So why are we involved

    Turkey is already heavily involved. It apparently isn’t enough. I don’t think anyone wants a Turkish invasion of Syria, which would be the next step for them.
    Again, I think people misunderstand what’s a clear statement of US policy here, which is to encourage a political settlement. Now maybe it will fail.But it fails, then we very well might see further escalation-including a Turkish invasion. Or chaos in Jordan. Or Iran might be emboldened to pull something with the Shias in Saudi Arabia.
    So far every prediction that the civil war will somehow get better if we do nothing has failed, and more and more parties are getting in and raising the ante. Its worth at least trying to get the parties to the bargaining table.If that fails, well- on to Gottedamerung.

  31. stonetools says:

    @Spartacus:

    Okay, I finally understand your argument:

    So you didn’t understand the argument, and mis-stated it as an absurd straw-man. Well if it works for you, fine . No one thinks you actually responded to my argument, though.

    I’m just to going to skip over your post explaining how misunderstood poor Iran is. It sort of speaks for itself.

  32. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    No, Turkey is not heavily involved. They have NATO-capable armor and air forces that are staying in Turkey. If it’s so important that we need to fly 10,000 miles to get there I’d think the Turks could drive over from next door.

    As for Israel they’ve made it clear their objection is to more arms getting to Hezbollah. Beyond that they seem to prefer the devil they know. No one knows what a Sunni win in Syria would mean. But the Suni have generally been worse on issues of tolerance than have the Shiites. There are minorities in Syria that have been tolerated under the Alawites. Do you have a guarantee they’d fare as well under Salafists and Al Qaeda allies?

  33. al-Ameda says:

    I believe that this means that most Americans oppose John McCain’s incoherent Syrian policy.

    Conservative are so hot to intervene in Syria, in the same way they were hot to dump Saddam Hussein. I’m very disappointed that Obama is actually listening to Republicans on the issue of supporting the Syrian opposition. The Syrian rebels are supported by Hezbollah and very likely, Iran too. There is no right move to make that involves large scale intervention here. We just hopscotch from one quagmire to the next in that region.

  34. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    So you didn’t understand the argument, and mis-stated it as an absurd straw-man.

    You’ve already acknowledged that the outcome of the Syrian civil war will result in no actual harm to the U.S. itself. You claim that the U.S. should still be involved though because the AQ-affiliated, Sunni-backed rebels are fighting Assad, who is supported by Iran/Hezbollah/Russia. You claim Iran is an “enemy” and Russia is a “frenemy” of the U.S. No one not in high school knows what “frenemy” actually means. And, we’re supposed to accept that Iran is an actual enemy of the U.S. (vs. Israel) even though they’ve never acted in a hostile way toward the U.S. For these reasons, you claim the U.S. should send small arms to the these AQ-affiliated Sunni-backed rebels even though doing so (1) will not tip the balance of power, (2) will certainly result in more human suffering, and (3) will strengthen AQ-affiliated forces. And, you cite the approving opinions of so-called “foreign policy experts” as evidence that these views are meritorious even though most of these same “experts” supported the biggest foreign policy blunder this country has made in close to 50 years.

    These aren’t straw men. These are your exact arguments, which you’ve made across several threads. The fact that these arguments can’t be distinguished from arguments that you claim are straw men shows how problematic this policy is.

  35. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools: I’m just to going to skip over your post explaining how misunderstood poor Iran is. It sort of speaks for itself.

    Or you could provide actual facts that show any of my assertions to be false. If it is so obvious that Iran is an actual “enemy” of the U.S. those facts should be readily available.

    However, even if Iran was creating weaponized uranium, it’s hard to see how the U.S. can stop them from producing a nuclear bomb. Our policy of strangling the Iranian economy won’t prevent them from acquiring a bomb. And since no one can describe what steps Iran can take in order to get the sanctions lifted, they have every incentive to acquire a bomb because it will give them greater leverage in any negotiations that do materialize and it will stop all the crazy talk about attacking Iran. See North Korea.

  36. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    No, Turkey is not heavily involved. They have NATO-capable armor and air forces that are staying in Turkey. If it’s so important that we need to fly 10,000 miles to get there I’d think the Turks could drive over from next door.

    The Turks provide a refuge for the Syrian rebels. Could they invade? Sure. But no one wants either a Turkish or US invasion. The point, once again, is to get the parties to Geneva to discuss a political settlement. That’s why the US changed policy. The mistake which everyone on this thread has made is to ignore the Administration statement and to instead conclude that this is the opening move to an escalation for full scale military intervention. It’s not, and the Administration has said explicitly it’s not.
    I think we’ve over-learned the lesson of Iraq. Just as for conservatives, every foreign intervention question is always 1938 and Munich, for liberals its always 2002 and Iraq. Every intervention is different, though. For example, we can actually prod the parties toward entering into negotiations, and if that doesn’t work, guess what -and this is powerful-we can STOP. We can try and if we fail, we can pull the plug. Obama did just that in Afghanistan. He tried a surge and when it didn’t work, he stopped. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with trying a difficult thing, then stopping if it doesn’t work.

  37. stonetools says:

    @Spartacus:

    These aren’t straw men. These are your exact arguments, which you’ve made across several threads. The fact that these arguments can’t be distinguished from arguments that you claim are straw men shows how problematic this policy is.

    Er, no. What I have done is to explain the Administration’s policy change in terms of their actual statement, which you , like everyone else, has studiously ignored. Its easy to claim you don’t understand why someone does something if you ignore the context or their explanation.
    Presumably it also helps if you mis-characterize opposing arguments(When did I mention anyone associated with Bush?Again , it isn’t always 2002 no matter what the context is). Anyway, its late where I am. Goodnight all.

  38. anjin-san says:

    I’m just to going to skip over your post explaining how misunderstood poor Iran is.

    Thank you Jenos…

  39. Mikey says:

    @TastyBits:

    Either go all-in or stay all-out. I have yet to see any half-ass policy work.

    Indeed, we have seen the results of trying to fight wars “on the cheap” twice in the last decade. Neither has ended well.

    Sending M4s and body armor to the Syrian rebels isn’t going to accomplish diddly. If we want them to win, we’re going to have to do a lot more. Even if all we want is Obama’s stated goal of a negotiated political settlement, we’re going to have to do more.

    And we’ll have to do more because Russia and Iran are going to respond to our actions by doing more, themselves. A game of escalation and counter-escalation begins.

    No good will come of this.

  40. Rob in CT says:

    Roughly 70-20-10. That’s beyond a landslide. Yet the movers & shakers in DC, regardless of party, are mostly pro-intervention.

    It’s funny. Sometimes politicians get attacked for just following poll data. Me, I don’t think that’s so bad (sometimes, it can be, yes). In this instance, would that Obama followed the polls!

    This is idiocy.

  41. Rob in CT says:

    Is this where I have to point out the mostly-forgotten fact that Israel is not, technically, an ally? We have no treaty of alliance with Israel.

    Israel isn’t an ally. It’s a client state. There’s a difference.

  42. TastyBits says:

    @stonetools:

    … The point, once again, is to get the parties to Geneva to discuss a political settlement. …

    I thought the point was to get moderates running a democratic government like Libya.

    I fail to see any reason for President Assad to negotiate. He is the democratically elected leader. His political opponents are trying to overturn that election. Foreign terrorists are working with the Syrian insurgents to overthrow the Syrian government. He is backed by a global power, and that global power is going to supply him with arms to keep him in power. The same global power has nixed any no-fly zone plans, and they will continue to complicate any other schemes.

    Syria and Russia disagree with the US report of WMD use. Assad has stated he will use WMD if foreign entities join the insurgents. Arming the “freedom fighters” would seem to cross his red line.

    … I think we’ve over-learned the lesson of Iraq. …

    I think that the US has forgotten the lessons of the last 100 years. The escalation ploy was tried by President Nixon, but it did not get a settlement with the North Vietnamese. Supplying arms to “freedom fighters” was tried by President Reagan, and the result was Osama Bin Laden (OBL) and the Taliban.

    … There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with trying a difficult thing, then stopping if it doesn’t work.

    This will have negative consequences. This was one of the reasons OBL decided to attack the US mainland.

    I fully understand the results of Assad winning, but the outcome was established before the conflict began. I have proposed a solution that would achieve the goal of moderates in charge in Syria, but I doubt many people support that solution. We must deal with reality as it is not as we want to be.

  43. Jenos Idanian says:

    Side 1: Assad, Iran, Hezbollah.
    Objective: Kill the “wrong” type of Muslims, then go back to attacking non-Muslims.

    Side 2: Several radical Islamist groups, including at least one Al Qaeda affiliate.
    Objective: Kill the “wrong” type of Muslims, then go back to attacking non-Muslims.

    Why shouldn’t we build on the stunning successes of Egypt and Libya?

  44. Barry says:

    @stonetools: “There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with trying a difficult thing, then stopping if it doesn’t work.”

    ‘Hey Joe, just go into that bar and throw a punch. If it don’t work out, just stop punching. It’s not like there’ll be consequences to your actions.’

  45. Dave says:

    @TastyBits:

    He’s the democratically elected leader

    Yep, just like his father before him, in an unbroken line of succession. They do know how to get out the vote, those Assads do.

  46. TastyBits says:

    @Dave:

    If it works for them, it works for me.

    I will note that countries Americans like are deemed to have fair elections, but those that Americans dislike are declared have rigged elections. Many of these Americans cannot understand why they are not loved.

  47. Davebo says:

    @Dave:

    Exactly! What kind of country elects a father, then his son. And perhaps his other son.

    Or a husband then his wife???

    That’s just crazy Banana Republic talk!

    /Snark

  48. Dave says:

    @Davebo: The key part of my post was “unbroken line of succession”. Yes, the U.S. seems to be moving towards some form of political dynasticism in public life, but so far they have 1) been separated by periods of the opposition being in power; 2) power has been transferred through fair (mostly) elections; 3) subject to an awful lot of public criticism. Now, quickly, who ran against the Assads? Seriously, much as I personally despise the increasing stratification of American society with a resultant ruling political class, comparing the American system to Syria’s perpetual one party rule is simply stupid. I won’t bother to address @TastyBits reply, it speaks for itself.

  49. TastyBits says:

    @Dave:

    … I won’t bother to address @TastyBits reply, it speaks for itself.

    Unless you have more knowledge of the Syrian electoral process and laws, you can’t answer @TastyBits, and your opinion is that there is some problem with the Syrian election.

    You should be familiar with the 2000 election of the US President. President Bush was selected when the US Supreme Council stopped the democratic process before it was complete. There are still a large number of US citizens who dispute the legitimacy of the Bush Presidency. Where are the calls for UN election monitors.

    American arrogance is epic. Americans dislike Assad, and therefore, his Presidency is deemed illegitimate. No country want the US meddling in their internal affairs. Contrary to popular opinion, the US is not all knowing, all powerful, and always right.