Until now, President Obama and his closest advisers took a risk-averse approach to Syria. They saw the situation as too combustible, the opposition as too fragmented and weak, to get involved. Even today, the White House argues that the purpose of intervention is not regime change.
It is “about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday.
But both supporters and opponents of military intervention are wondering aloud what the point is, then, of getting involved.
“The sad part of this is that they keep announcing that this is not anything to do with the regime change,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News on Wednesday. “What these strikes should be about is to help the resistance change the momentum which is now not in their favor.”
Further, McCain suggested that by the U.S. rattling the sword about a possible strike for days, it’s given the Assad regime time to prepare.
“If I were Bashar al-Assad, I think I would declare tomorrow a snow day and keep everybody from work,” he said.
While McCain ultimately favors more U.S. intervention in Syria, others do not and say a U.S. strike would draw the country deeper into a bloody and complicated conflict.
“It’s the most phenomenally stupid misuse of our military that I’ve ever seen,” said Ralph Peters, a Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colonel.
He said the U.S. is only in this situation because President Obama was “shooting off his mouth about red lines and chemical weapons.” He said that because Obama warned a year ago that using chemical weapons would cross that line, “now he feels he has to do something.”
“He’s not thinking through the potential consequences,” Peters said.
Among them, he said, is the possibility that Assad ally Iran could try and retaliate.
Further, he noted that a U.S. strike ends up putting Washington on the same side as Al Qaeda sympathizers, who are also fighting Assad.
Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat who was one of the loudest voices in Congress against the second Iraq war, told The Hill: “So what, we’re about to become Al Qaeda’s air force now?”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who was the lone congressional vote against authorizing military force in Afghanistan after the 2001 terror attack, also has come out against military action in Syria.
But some Republicans have voiced skepticism as well. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “any U.S. military action could bring serious consequences or further escalation,” and Obama should make his case to Congress.
Israel, too, could get drawn into any escalation. As an indication of this possibility, Fox News has learned that Israel has deployed anti-missile systems and the Israeli cabinet has authorized the call-up of a small number of Army Reserves.
While the Obama administration indicates it wants to keep any strike on Syria limited and brief in nature, history shows that such interventions have a mixed record.
One of the most infamous was the U.N.-authorized intervention in Somalia in 1993. Two U.S. helicopters were downed in that operation, which would later become known as “Black Hawk Down.”
The U.S. also, unilaterally, launched missile strikes on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan in 1998, in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in eastern Africa. The Afghanistan strikes, though, failed to take out Usama bin Laden, and the intelligence that pinpointed the pharmaceutical factory as a target was later called into question.
The most recent limited intervention was the multi-nation campaign in Libya in 2011. The intervention helped rebels depose Muammar Qaddafi. But the nation has struggled to rebuild itself, with Islamist extremists taking root in the country and launching an attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi last fall.
Obama entered into the Libya campaign without any authorization from Congress.
House members, though, are circulating a letter to colleagues this week urging Obama to seek congressional approval for Syria.
“We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict,” the letter states.