Syria is being compared to a lot of things — Kosovo, Rwanda, Libya, Iraq — and the Obama administration is divided over which lessons should apply. Here's what President Obama will do for Syrian rebels: give them small arms and ammunition. Here's what he's considering: a no-fly zone along the Jordanian border, and maybe anti-tank weapons. Here's what he won't do, for now: give them anti-aircraft weapons the rebel commanders have been asking for, or put American boots on the ground.
Former President Bill Clinton criticized Obama for not intervening in Syria's two-year-old conflict earlier this week, saying, "Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit — like, as long as you don't make an improvident commitment," Clinton said, according to Politico's Maggie Haberman. Clinton cited his own experience with Bosnia and Kosovo. But Obama has other conflicts in mind, according to Politico — Iraq and Afghanistan. Avoiding overcommitment proved to be a problem in those wars.
"The president himself, people close to the situation said, has been agonizing over the decision, torn between his desire to do the right thing — and his bone-deep aversion to the kind of quick-trigger military intervention in Iraq that sidetracked his predecessor George W. Bush and resulted in the thousands of U.S. casualties," Politico's Glenn Thrush and Reid J. Epstein write. The Obama administration is divided, The New York Times reports, between State Department officials who want a more aggressive intervention, and White House officials who "remain wary." And some think Obama already missed his chance: "Many in the American government believe that the military balance has tilted so far against the rebels in recent months that American shipments of arms to select groups may be too little, too late."
Obama shot down a plan to arm the rebels pushed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA director David Petraeus, because he thought the weapons could get in the hands of Islamist militants. But now Obama thinks he can't do nothing, The Wall Street Journal reports, because it risks "watching as rebels lose still more ground to a resurgent Assad regime backed by Russia, Iran and soldiers from the militant Hezbollah group." But at Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner writes that this is sort of the point: "the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible." It's not so much about helping the rebels — the White House's behavior "screams deep reluctance over intervention" — but hurting our enemies. Drezner argues, "For the low, low price of aiding and arming the rebels, the U.S. preoccupies all of its adversaries in the Middle East."