- - Sunday, June 23, 2013


President Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Group of Eight summit last week to discuss many things, but the biggest topic appeared to be their differences over Syria. One look at a picture of their meeting tells you how poorly it went.

Syria has been in the midst of a civil war for two years. The rebels were a late bloom of the Arab Spring — beginning while the Western world was occupied with Libya. Mr. Obama has largely avoided getting involved, but he recently cited reports of chemical weapon usage for declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad must go. Mr. Obama backed himself into the same corner when he said in 2011 that Libya’s Col. Moammar Gadhafi must go.

Furthermore, Britain and France forced the White House to openly agree to supply arms to the rebels. Our allies were prompted by Iran announcing that it was sending 4,000 troops to help Mr. Assad and that Russia was sending more anti-aircraft defenses and small arms to the Syrian government.

The Cold Warriors, like Sen. John McCain, want to jump into Syria in order to fight another U.S.-Russian proxy war. For the likely outcome, see Vietnam.

Humanitarian interventionists, represented by recently appointed U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, decry the loss of innocent life and demand involvement to prevent another mass genocide like Rwanda. (Recent estimates put the Syrian death toll at more than 93,000 so far.) For the likely outcome, see Somalia.

Neocons still want to spread democracy and think the rebels are the best chance for a secular, peace-loving democracy in Damascus, as well as a means to weaken Iran and create another bulwark around the mullahs. For the likely outcome, see Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are all wrong. In this case, Mr. Obama was absolutely correct in trying to stay out of another Middle East quagmire. Unfortunately, as so often is the case with our president, he is flip-flopping. Now he is backing into a conflict with eyes wide open. A conflict that, once again, has no positive outcome.

Hezbollah and al Qaeda represent the two sides of the Syrian conflict. Both are terrorist organizations, obviously. If you had to guess which one the U.S. is more likely to help in this case, most would say, “Hezbollah is the lesser of two evils.” Wrong, we are supporting al Qaeda.

Surely this cannot be because Mr. Obama himself declared al Qaeda defeated just this past May. Perhaps, he meant the non-U.S.-supported branch of al Qaeda.

But I digress.

The best outcome would be to give the Syrian al Qaeda-supported rebels just enough firepower to keep fighting so both sides kill each other. And then all the equipment we deliver magically disappears. But the war will end and there will be a victor of sorts.

If Mr. Assad and Hezbollah win, Iran can strengthen its ties with the two groups, most likely throwing Lebanon firmly under Hezbollah control and provoking an Israeli response. Jordan and Turkey also have been actively trying to oust Mr. Assad, so his victory could easily foretell another explosion of Middle East conflict.

A rebel victory gives al Qaeda a new base of operations. The Syrian desert is an uncontrollable wasteland, just like the Iraq desert was. We should not expect or even hope that suddenly these rebels will like us because we helped them. That seems to be a recurring fallacy that interventionists entertain.

Syrians generally distrust foreign, and especially Western, influence. The rebels have been begging for help from the West for two years; coming late to the party does not endear us to them, even if that very help turns the tide. Under no circumstances can we assume that we will have standing with the new rebel government.

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