Here's a brief scenario of how President Obama's "limited" plan for attacking ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Syria and arming and training "moderate" opposition forces in that country could quickly get side-tracked and escalate into a full-blown war against both the government of President Bashar al-Assad and ISIL, as well as all the other opposition groups.
A pair of United States F/A-18 Hornet aircraft enter Syrian airspace on a bombing run against ISIL fighters retreating into eastern Syria from Iraq. The Syrian Armed Forces track the American aircraft and proceed to switch on their high-altitude Russian-built S-300 air defense system or their SA-22 mobile antiaircraft systems. The F/A-18 pilots take the appropriate counter-measures to jam Syrian radar and communication systems, But somehow a Syrian surface-to-air missile slips through and downs one of the Hornets. The pilot and navigator manage to eject in time and parachute to safety. Well, not quite "safety." They are both captured by an ISIL contingent. The two men cringe as they hear, "Allahu Akbar!"
Voilà... boots on the ground. Count on more to come.
Suddenly, President Obama is faced with the prospect of having to destroy all of Syria's air defenses -- both in retaliation for the downing of the aircraft and to prevent it from happening again. There's a good chance this would happen. In a recent article in The New York Times titled "Paths to War, Then and Now, Haunt Obama," Peter Baker writes:
[President Obama] made clear the intricacy of the situation, though, as he contemplated the possibility that Mr. Assad might order his forces to fire at American planes entering Syrian airspace. If he dared to do that, Mr. Obama said he would order American forces to wipe out Syria's air defense system, which he noted would be easier than striking ISIS because its locations are better known. He went on to say that such an action by Mr. Assad would lead to his overthrow, according to one account.
In a blink of an eye, the US is at war with the Syrian government, while at the same time having to figure out how to extricate its two airmen being held by ISIS and deal with the public fallout from seeing videos (...use your imagination) of the two pilots shown repeatedly on TV and replayed endlessly on YouTube. Now Mr. Obama really has a dilemma, because if he contributes to Mr. Assad's overthrow, he leaves a power vacuum in Syria, which means the civil war there would grow even more out of control, complex, bloody, and gruesome. But unlike in Iraq, the US would have no political clout or credibility to help negotiate some sort of ceasefire or political deal, because we would be a full-fledged combatant in a civil war that would make what's going on in Iraq and Libya look like a cakewalk.
We would be at war with the Alawites and Shiites, and potentially with their foreign allies, Iran and Russia. We'd be at war with a lot of truly nasty Sunni rebel groups, including ISIL and the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front -- both of which would be emboldened and given a wonderful recruitment pitch by the American presence in Syria. Our only "friends" would be the few thousand vetted "moderate" Sunni rebels that we would be arming and training. But even some of these people would be questionable, because it would always be unclear where their loyalties lie or how easily they could be persuaded to switch sides.
All in all, Mr. Obama's decision to go to war in Syria is a poorly thought-out one. It would be a disastrous one if he actually chose to proceed with it. Worst of all, like in Iraq, there would be no clear exit strategy. Only another big mess in the Middle East to try and clean up...and still the American people wouldn't be safer. Quite the opposite. We, in our boundless wisdom, will have created infinitely more potential terrorists with serious grudges against us.
So we want to spend our blood and treasure to make more enemies?
Carlos Castaneda once advised, "Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn't then it is of no use to us."
Your path to Syria has no heart, Mr. Obama.