According to the Pentagon, the Obama administration could decide:
- - To strike Syrian targets with long-range air strikes.
- - To enforce a no-fly zone or buffer areas over parts of Syria and its neighboring countries.
- - To train opposition forces already at war with the army loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
- - To continue the current course of providing Syrian rebels with arms.
President Obama, quick to use the might of the American military in the manhunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, is considered lukewarm at best on the idea of militarily intervening in Syria. His caution is wise. With U.S. forces still engaged in Afghanistan (since 2001), the last thing America’s military needs is another long, drawn-out engagement that features unclear goals and an undetermined end date.
Gen. Dempsey said as much in his letter to Congress.
“All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime,” Gen. Dempsey wrote. “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”
In Syria, which some consider the site of the world’s greatest humanitarian and refugee crisis since Rwanda, the need is supreme. Death-toll estimates rise above 90,000; YouTube is full of shaky camera-phone videos that reportedly show the worst of the atrocities taking place: dead children, bombed villages, innocent civilians maimed on a daily yet alarming scale.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is the loudest and most prominent critic of Obama’s reluctance to forcefully act in Syria. The former presidential candidate has vigorously called for Obama to use airstrikes and install a no-fly zone in the region. His analysis of the Syrian civil war is based on that premise.
“One of two things will inevitably happen,” McCain has told TheDailyBeast.com. “Either we get engaged and we turn this around, or Assad is able to reassert control to the point where [the administration will] make up the excuse that we can’t salvage this situation anyway,” he said. “I don’t know which result it’s going to be, but I do know with the status quo that the initiative will continue to remain with Assad.”
Strong words, indeed. But Gen. Dempsey’s words are the ones on which Washington should concentrate. Are we ready for “deeper involvement?”