Two years ago, we could have acted decisively to end the Syrian civil war before it really got started. We could have made a realpolitik decision to support Assad, who, though a vicious brute to his own people, mostly minds his own business. Or we could have thrown in wholeheartedly with the rebels, picking one faction to provide with arms and international prestige, keeping (maybe) the worst elements out of power.
Instead, the Obama administration dithered, denouncing Assad and drawing lines in the sand over his behavior, then backing away every time he crossed one. We managed to alienate both sides as well as convincing all concerned that our bark had no bite.
In short, Obama has adopted as his guide Jimmy Carter's foreign policy of 1979, when the United States cluelessly half-yanked the rug from beneath the shah in Iran and Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, then primly tsk-tsked their opponents. The eventual result was that two of our allies were replaced with regimes implacably hostile to our interests, which quickly began destabilizing everything around them. Sadly, that's now the best possible outcome in Syria. If the War Party get its way, you'll see the worst.
And there's this as well, which is just as important. Polls show that Americans are very much against sending U.S. troops into Syria (68 percent opposed according to a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll), with 51 percent against even sending arms to the rebels (go here for more info). Those numbers track closely with Gallup, which also shows 68 percent using "military action to attempt to end the conflict."
Anybody living outside the Washington Beltway should be thinking long and hard why reluctance to go along with this policy prescription is getting Rand Paul denounced as a libertarian loon. The problem in our capital is not that there's too much division between Republicans and Democrats, but that they've merged into a single War Party when it comes to the Middle East.
Despite having a soft spot for Murray Rothbard, Garvin is no general peacenik and implicit in his take is an important point for those who generally favor intervention in Syria and elsewhere: The Obama administration has done next to nothing to explain why we should be intervening, other than to issue some offhand comments about chemical weapons being a red-line trigger (now that it seems both sides have used them, what do we do?). As in Libya, there are vague and not-so-vague gestures toward humanitarian intervention to prevent atrocities. Those may be noble goals—even if they rarely achieve their goals—but they don't substitute for serious discussion of U.S. goals and aims, much less assurances of how an operation might work.
I'm not in favor of intervening in Syria and I'm not sure of the arguments that would sway my mind, but it's amazing to think that the Obama admin—along with hawks such as John McCain, last seen calling for heavy weapons for the rebels and posing with apparent kidnappers of religious pilgrims—don't even feel a need to sell the next new war to the vast majority of Americans who are against war.