The U.S. has little interest in toppling Assad

Micah Zenko writes: Last week, the Daily Beast published an “exclusive” news story supported by comments from two anonymous administration officials: “Obama Asks Pentagon for Syria No-Fly Zone Plan.” The newsworthiness and hype surrounding such reporting was puzzling given that the military’s operational plans for a no-fly zone (NFZ) in Syria were completed many months ago and have been refined as new information has become available. Of course, versions of these plans have also been briefed in detail to the White House on multiple occasions. Soon after the Daily Beast story ran, Pentagon spokesperson Dave Lapan felt compelled to declare: “There is no new planning effort underway.” This failed effort to plant a story about White House interest in NFZ options for Syria is perhaps the most perfunctory effort ever to coerce a foreign leader — in this case, Bashar al-Assad, before the forthcoming diplomatic discussions in Geneva.

The Obama administration’s leaks should not be surprising — they are representative of the theatrical and half-hearted nature of America’s debate over military intervention in Syria. On March 27, 2011, just one week after a U.S.-led coalition began selectively enforcing an NFZ over Libya, then-Senator Joseph Lieberman endorsed a similar measure for Syria, in case Assad “turns his weapons on his people and begins to slaughter them, as Qaddafi did.” Over the subsequent 27 months, every plausible military tactic and mission has been exhaustively analyzed and deliberated by policymakers, active-duty and retired military officials, pundits (including myself), journalists, and others.

Civilian officials have requested a range of military options, the Pentagon’s planning process has responded, congressional committees have held multiple hearings, the media has covered the unfolding fighting in and around Syria, and interested commentators have offered their opinions.

Seven months ago, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters: “On the no-fly zone itself, you know that we’ve been saying for quite a while we continue to study whether that makes sense, how it might work.” As those “studies” have continued, the American people have been polled repeatedly to gauge their opinion — the latest two polls demonstrate that less than a quarter of Americans think the U.S. military should intervene in Syria.

At this point, it is safe to say that — short of definitive evidence of large-scale regime-directed chemical weapons use, or threats to Turkey, a U.S. treaty ally — it is highly unlikely that the United States will intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war. [Continue reading…]

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