Syria’s civil war

The Obama administration’s decision to aid the Syrian rebels with arms once again places the United States in a delicate position within the snarl of interests in the Middle East.

Confirmation that President Bashar Hafez al-Assad used chemical weapons against the rebels, who have been fighting his government for more than two years, has forced the United States off the sidelines in another confusing conflict.

This is a civil war that has already taken more than 90,000 lives on both sides, one made up of Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah—receiving arms from Russian and Iran—and the other comprising insurgent groups, including organizations with ties to Al Qaeda. At this point the balance of power is tipped in favor of the government.

It is thought that the initial arms aid from the United States and its European allies will serve at least to hold off further government advances, but it will be insufficient to turn the conflict in the rebels’ favor.

Obama has resisted intervening despite Congressional and international pressure expecting humanitarian action to halt the carnage. This goal will not be served by sending more arms; the task at hand is to prevent a victory by Assad, even though Syria’s future without the dictator is uncertain, given the differences among the rebel coalition.

Americans do not want any more soldiers to die in wars with lofty geopolitical goals, that start with aid to rebels, followed by the establishment of no-fly zones—as some lawmakers are already calling for—and ending poorly for our country with a high cost in human and materials terms and to our nation’s image. Americans no longer want to be the world’s police force.

Syria is not Libya. This is a more complex threat in a more delicate area with the potential for more unpredictable consequences. Today, caution in weighing the impact of the actions to be taken remains the best strategy.