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Wed Aug 28, 2013, 10:28 AM


White House Syria Deliberations: 'Do Less' Camp is Still Winning [View all]

White House Syria Deliberations: 'Do Less' Camp is Still Winning

That said, this is what we do know. As always, the administration is split on action in Syria, and on what, if anything, should be done. General Martin Dempsey is largely against intervention. Samantha Power, U.N. Ambassador and author of A Problem from Hell, a scathing attack on powers that sit by in the face of slaughter, wants to do something. Looking at the roster of the fifteen people at the President's meeting to discuss the Syria crisis, they split roughly in two: the do more camp, and the do less camp. "People have been pretty stable in their positions," said a source familiar with the situation. "I don’t think anyone has changed their position."

The lone exception was Kerry, who had pushed for action on Libya, but has been hesitant on Syria: he has been gunning for that peace conference in Geneva. Today, he was likely trotted out to give the President some cover as the U.N. inspectors finish their work—and get the hell out of Syria before the fireworks start.

By Monday evening, the policy was still very much up in the air, but the "do less" camp seemed to be winning, probably because of Obama's notorious reluctance on such things. The outlines of what the Obama administration is likely to do was starting to take shape: the U.S. would likely act, but it would act mostly to impose a sense of consequence, stopping short of doing something obviously designed to shift the balance inside Syria between Assad and the motley rebel crew. Envisioned thus, U.S. military action would probably target things like the headquarters of airforce intelligence or other targets associated with the distribution of chemical weapons, but would probably spare Assad's deadly air force. That is, it would do enough damage to show the world that Obama's word is bond, that a red line—however accidentally drawn, however tardily noticed—is a red line, but would stop short of weakening Assad enough to let some increasingly shady people topple him. Retaliating for chemical weapons use, says one administration official, "would not be because of a desire to intervene in Syria, but to prevent future chemical weapons use."


Ultimately, whatever the White House decides—and it will do so painstakingly, almost theatrically so, to demonstrate that, unlike its predecessors, it has not rushed heedless into another Mulsim war—it is likely to be limited and surgically precise in its message to Assad: you can go on killing people in your murky civil war, just not with chemical weapons, well, not on a large scale.


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