The Limits of Saber Rattling

Obama's policies are smart, but his loose talk could force military action in Iran and Syria

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    Syria is even more problematic than Iran. It is, in a way, a replay of Iraq. The President is being pressed into action by the usual U.S. bomb squad--McCain and assorted neocons--but there also seems to be movement toward taking some sort of action on the side of the rebels from within his Administration. The humanitarian situation is desperate. The possibility of utter chaos is real. And so there is talk of imposing a no-fly zone. That worked in Iraq after the first Gulf War. (But Saddam Hussein wasn't fighting for his life, as Assad is--Assad might shoot back.) The CIA is helping expedite arms to the rebels. (We did that in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and our "allies" there became the Taliban.)

    The fact is, no one knows which way Syria is going. No one knows which rebels will prevail. After the past decade, we should know this: we will have little control over the outcome and, given our history of clunky kinetics, the use of American military force is likely to make the situation worse. The President has played Syria correctly so far: our role is to try to organize the neighboring countries around a strategy that will limit the damage; encourage the rebels to negotiate a deal with the more reasonable elements of the Assad regime, if there are any; and then provide nonmilitary assistance to put the pieces back together once the fighting is done. Anything more would be sheer folly.


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