Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that the United States will provide $60 million in direct aid to the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad. For those of us who oppose direct US intervention in the conflict, the good news is that the aid is all "non-lethal," suggesting considerable caution on the part of the administration. The bad news may be that this is the first step on the road to putting American forces in harm's way.
But maybe there is no bad news. For months, President Obama has firmly refused to plunge into yet another Middle Eastern war, and he probably intends this assistance to defuse pressure to intervene. In Libya, he could see a way to act in a very limited way and get out quickly at a very low cost. In Syria, that course does not seem open.
The Economist magazine, which laments his inaction, reported in January that there is considerable resistance to intervention inside the administration. "Whom would you have us bomb, administration doves ask more hawkish types: snipers in cities? How much American power, they demand to know, would be needed to bring peace? After all, almost 150,000 American troops were in Iraq at the peak of its sectarian killings."
Obama may not be impervious to those supporting military action, but he's not about to wade in without the assurance of quick success, with minimal casualties and an easy exit. Good thing. Recklessness was the style of the last president. This one knows the value of restraint.
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