With his decision to attack Syria in a “limited” way, some are concerned about the possibility of future escalation.
But the truth is we are not at the foot of the Syrian escalator deciding whether or not to get on. We are already on board and have been riding it upwards for more than a year. The following timeline gives an idea:
- Starting in January 2012 the CIA became involved in shipping arms to Syrian rebels. The US supposedly did not pay for the arms but we did have a behind-the-scenes consultant role in an airlift operation that brought them from Qatar and Turkey to Syria.
- The US also provided “communications assistance” to the rebels.
- In Feb. 2012 the US accuses Iran and Russia of providing weapons to the Assad regime.
- CBS reports that the Obama administration has softened its stance against international military assistance, i.e. the US is no longer ruling out military action.
- A few days later a General in the Free Syrian Army tells Reuters that French and US weapons have made their way to the rebels.
- March 2012 – Obama rejects calls for air strikes on Syria saying “unilateral” action would be a mistake.
- April 2012 – US calls for a UN arms embargo on Syria.
- May 2012 – Reuters reveals that Iran is flouting a UN arms embargo to send weapons to Syria.
- June 2012 – The US points out that Russia is sending attack helicopters to the Assad regime.
- June 2012 – The Russians and Iranians both claim the US is “providing arms” which were being used against Assad’s regime. They later claimed the statement had been mistranslated.
- July 2012, the Treasury Dept. grants a US based group permission to collect money for the Syrian rebels to purchase weapons. An analyst quoted in the story says it is “indirect pressure the U.S. is putting on the regime.”
- October 2012 – The US “secretly” dispatches 150 troops to Jordan’s border, supposedly to help with the flood of refugees.
- November 2012 – David Cameron seeks to ease the EU arms embargo on Syria in what the Guardian says “seemed to anticipate a bolder approach from Obama to end the conflict.”
- December 2012 – The UN sanctions two Iranian companies caught shipping weapons to Syria.
- December 2012 – In response to word that Syria has been mixing precursors to Sarin, Sec. State Clinton warns “we are certainly planning to take action” if Assad uses chemical weapons.
- January 2013 – The UK again pushes to ease the EU arms embargo against Syria to allow more shipments to the rebels.
- In June of 2013 after evidence of chemical weapons usage in Syria once again made the rounds in the media, President Obama pushed to allow the CIA to begin directly supplying arms and training to Syrian rebels. The CIA is no longer a consultant, if it ever was, it is a supplier.
- July 2013 – The US demands the UN do more to curb Iranian arms shipments to Syria.
- August 22, 2013 – Another chemical attack in Syria kills hundreds of civilians including children.
- August 30, 2013 – UK votes not to authorize an attack in Syria
- August 31, 2013 – Obama announces plans for an attack pending congressional approval.
- Sep. 2013 – This week the first graduates of this CIA military training in Jordan are headed to the front lines.
As you can see, Syria already looks a lot like a proxy fight between the US on one hand and Russia and Iran on the other. No one in the administration has claimed a US strike now will resolve the situation inside the country or lessen tensions outside the country. In fact, those tensions are already escalating. Iran’s Ayatollah is threatening that we will “suffer loss” if we attack and some suggest Russia might come to Syria’s aid. What if these threats/concerns turn out not to be idle?
Bottom line: We have been escalating in Syria for nearly 2 years and it is extremely unlikely that a military strike will make further escalation by Assad, Putin or others less likely. We should not take this next step unless we are willing to also take the one that will come after that.