A new, lengthy report from The New York Times published in today's paper outlines the arduous process that the Obama administration went through to get to its current position on the conflict in Syria.
According to the report, the first mistake in Obama's deliberations was assuming that Assad's regime would fall as quickly as other governments had during the Arab Spring, such as those in Egypt and Libya. When Obama called for Assad to step down in August 2011 and made his infamous "red line" comment, the administration still had no clear idea of what its strategy should be. Instituting a no-fly zone would have been too arduous and the C.I.A. was pushing to covertly train rebels in Jordan.
The disagreements over how to proceed were clearly wearying:
Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.
In private conversations with aides, Mr. Obama described Syria as one of those hellish problems every president faces, where the risks are endless and all the options are bad.
Two key figures in the disputes were Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser, who opposed intervention, and Samantha Power, who argued that the United States had a moral obligation to intervene. Eventually, Obama agreed to the C.I.A.'s proposal to arm the rebels in April, although he announced the decision two months later. He also dragged his feet on requesting funding from Congress for such a program.
The report's main implication is that despite all of the negotiations and the administration's hemming and hawing, the current program of training rebels in Jordan—arrived at slowly and with difficulty—is still not likely to do much. The article's stinger is a statement from Obama's nominee for special operations policy at the Pentagon, Michael Lumpkin, during his Senate confirmation hearing, in which he testified that such a program would do little to shift the balance of power.