Syria really is a ‘slippery slope’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 25, 2013

U.S. intervention would carry big risks, high costs
We’ve heard the term “slippery slope” at least 10,972 times in recent days. Sometimes we should pay attention to cliches.
After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Barack Obama says he’s directed the Central Intelligence Agency to start coordinating the supply of some sort of weapons to rebel factions in Syria. Once again the United States risks injecting itself into the middle of a civil war in the Middle East and the unmitigated, centuries-old hatred between Sunnis and Shiites.
Obama is doing this out of guilt and compassion. At least 93,000 people have been murdered in Syria’s civil war on his watch, as rebels desperately fight to free themselves from the dictatorship of Bashar Hafez al-Assad. The rebels are losing, and Hezbollah, Iran and Russia are helping the Syrian government with weapons, battle-hardened troops and vows of undying support.

Obama also worries about the impact of Syrian refugees and the possibility of a spillover of war into Jordan, a strategic ally. Many of Europe’s leaders want U.S. involvement. And Obama fears lack of action in Syria will convince Iran the United States will yield on its opposition to Iran’s ambition to be a nuclear power.
After being castigated by critics, most recently former President Bill Clinton, for not arming the rebels (Clinton is remorseful for not preventing the massacre in Rwanda), Obama indicates a political solution for Syria may not be in sight and he’s changed his mind about not arming the rebels. The spur, he says, is evidence Assad killed at least 150 Syrians with chemical weapons.
Obama has no intention, thus far, to seek a vote in Congress. He cautions against seeing his decision as any sort of plan to get into another war, arguing America’s goal is to stop the war in Syria.
Some observations:

Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are not about to let the rebels win nor permit a government friendly to the United States to be installed in Syria. The risk of escalation is a big one.
A few thousand more rifles and machine guns and rockets will not end the war; they are likely to increase the killing. Also, the rebels include members of al Qaida.
What is the end game?

After 10 years of war, the Iraq civil war is escalating and the Taliban is still trying to take over Afghanistan. Have we not learned to avoid war if we can’t ascertain a clear, attainable objective?
Securing Syria’s chemical weapons will require boots on the ground.

We can’t afford more war. We have spent $1.5 trillion on wars in the past 10 years. That money should have gone to improving America’s infrastructure, education system and research and development to cement America’s place in the global economy.
The American people have no stomach for another prolonged war, a war that has religious overtones and in which we have no control over who will end up ruling Syria.
We risk humiliation. Frustrated Syrian rebels, who warn they are on the verge of losing badly, say when, if and where U.S. weapons materialize, they will be too late and too little. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is skeptical. Syria has a tremendous number of weapons; the rebels lack training and expertise on how to use them.
Will Obama supply air support? Is the United States ready for another huge military effort in a region difficult to supply? How will we know which rebels to trust? How do we sort out all the conflicting aims of various Arab nations in the region regarding Syria? Will it be possible for the United States to avoid sending soldiers to Syria but still “captain” a European-Arab team? What will a post-Assad government look like? Can it possibly be unified? Will Iran become more powerful? Haven’t our soldiers suffered enough?
So many questions. So few answers. Such a slippery slope.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail