Everyone waiting for an “October surprise” from the Middle East has tended to focus on Israel and Iran. But earlier this week, U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war was put on the table — by President Obama.
Unlike in Libya, where potential mass killings of civilians by forces loyal to then-dictator Moammar Gadhafi prompted Europe and the U.S. to side with the rebels, Syria’s 1.5-year-old conflict has already claimed 20,000 lives, more than half of whom reportedly were civilians. Monday, in a rare Q&A session with the White House press corps, Obama warned both sides in the conflict against using weapons of mass destruction:
We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region, that that’s a red line for us, and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.
It was the strongest indication from Obama yet about what it would take to pull the U.S. into the conflict, in which Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has received support and/or diplomatic cover from Iran, China and Russia.
If WMDs are used in Syria, should the U.S. intervene?
Total Voters: 159
Now, an “October surprise” is normally thought to be something one of the presidential candidates does to help his own electoral chances, although it can refer to an event that happens beyond the candidates’ control. Naturally, any military action would happen because Obama ordered it, but not necessarily because he was making a political calculation. In this case, it’s not clear to me whether U.S. intervention in Syria would tend to boost or deflate Obama’s prospects of winning re-election. I tend to think it would hurt him, given that he needs his base to turn out in large numbers, and a new military conflict would be more likely to depress the anti-war left. (Well, at least they’re anti-war when a Republican is in the White House.)
But I don’t want to look at this question from a strictly, or even mostly, political standpoint. If either side in Syria were to use chemical or biological weapons against the other, would that justify U.S. intervention in their civil war?
Consider whatever factors you want, but that’s this week’s Poll Position question. Answer in the nearby poll, and explain your reasoning in the comments thread below.
– By Kyle Wingfield