Obama and Syria: experts, politicians, and constituents are divided over any possible action. However, a letter signed by 66 foreign policy experts calling for immediate intervention has come from an unusual base for Obama, neoconservatives and the far right. While liberal interventionists have pointed to human rights violations and chemical weapons for possible actions, the letter shows the veiled side of assisting the Syrian rebels — the notion that Syria can be the new starting block for American power and control in the Middle East. There are at least 66 experts who want Syria to be Iraq version 2.0.
The short letter is woven with neoconservative rhetoric. Take the lines, "You have said that large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria would implicate 'core national interests,' including 'making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies [and] our bases in the region.' The world — including Iran, North Korea, and other potential aggressors who seek or possess weapons of mass of destruction — is now watching to see how you respond." This should sound familiar to anyone who read op-eds in the last decade.
If the letter isn't proof enough of another Middle East policy, look to the list of signatures. Strategically, the first signatory, Ammar Abdulhamid, is a Syrian dissident and human rights activist. But then starting with Elliott Abrams begins a list of conservative think tank members and/or elected officials who not only supported the Iraq war and Middle East policy of the Bush administration, but helped craft it.
A call for helping the victims of al-Assad's brutality perfectly embodies the double-edged sword that is interventionism. Proponents often point to the inaction of western nations during the genocide in Darfur as a hard lesson learned and subsequent precedent for action. On the other hand, many of these same proponents are also critics of the U.S. occupations and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, there is of course the compromise of strategic bombing and aid that was seen in the heavily debated strikes in Libya.
The letter pushes for a Libya compromise with airpower and support for on the ground domestic fighters. Syria isn't quite Libya though. While there are similar elements, the Syrian civil war has spilled over and affected neighboring countries like Turkey, Israel, and Iran, and by proxy, the U.S. and Russia.
This is ripe territory for neoconservatives. Many come from the Cold War days, and now have the best of both generations. The fate of Syria is now critical to Middle Eastern stability, as well as the anti-détente that is occurring with Russia thanks to Edward Snowden, crackdowns on the Russian LGBT community, the Sochi Olympics, etc. Beliefs aside, many of the foreign policy think tank members who signed the letter have built their careers over situations like this.
If the Syria crisis and cooling U.S.-Russian relations aren't enough of a burden for the president, the resurgence of Bush-era long term Middle East policy is now a distinct possibility. It would be much simpler if it was simply a manner of helping the Syrian people, but it's a lot more complex than that. Time is going to tell on this one.