By Bill Press
This is the time when every second-term president starts thinking about his legacy. But what a mixed one it’s going to be for President Obama. After last week’s White House decision to start arming the opposition in Syria, it looks like historians will profile him as the man who stopped two wars in the Middle East — and then started a third one. Is that really how he wants to be remembered?
Obviously not. Getting involved in Syria was clearly something Obama did not want to do. He held off as long as he could — give him credit for that. But, having boxed himself in by vowing to respond with a show of force if Syria crossed “the red line” by using chemical weapons, the president had no choice but to take the next step — even the baby step of sending in small weapons.
At best, it’s a halfway decision that raises more questions than answers. Why, for starters, did we do nothing about Syria for two years while more than 92,000 people were killed by conventional weapons, yet suddenly decide to arm the opposition when 150 people were killed by chemical weapons — and the rebels appear to be losing ground?
However justified, military intervention in Syria could prove to be a serious mistake. The situation in Syria is a lot more complicated than in Egypt or Libya. Syria’s a powerful nation with a large, well-trained and well-equipped military. President Bashar Assad has the support of Russia, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran, which has already responded to Obama’s decision by sending 4,000 members of its Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria. Civil war in Syria could easily escalate into a regional Middle East war, if it hasn’t already.
There’s also no way to guarantee that our weapons will only get into the hands of the “good guys” among the opposition. In theory, we’re sending arms to the secular forces represented by the Free Syrian Army. But they’re losing ground, while the more powerful Al-Nusrah Front, allied with al Qaeda, is gaining territory. Will this end up like another Afghanistan, where we overthrow one regime only to install our enemies in power?
And, of course, we all know the United States will most likely never get by with the promise of limiting our involvement in Syria to the provision of small arms only. Already, super-hawk Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has accused the president of not doing enough. He’s demanding that Obama do more — send bigger, armor-piercing and anti-aircraft weapons, send in airstrikes, establish a no-fly zone. Let’s hope Obama remembers: McCain lost in 2008. There’s no need to pay any attention to his saber rattling now.
As several members of Congress have noted, however, there is a need for the president to address the nation and explain to the American people why the use of military force in Syria is necessary to protect and defend the United States of America. There’s only one problem: He can’t make that case. Nobody can.
Press is host of “The Full-Court Press” on Current TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.