A lengthy feature in Wednesday’s New York Times delves deep into the Obama administration’s longstanding indecisiveness over how to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Through interviews with former staffers and administration officials, the Times reveals how, when it comes to the ongoing Syria discussions, “a deeply ambivalent president” has “presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known.”
Going back several years before the Assad regime’s Aug. 21, 2013 use of chemical weapons against rebels just outside of Damascus, the Times reveals that the debate within Obama’s national security circles was intense. Some even allege that “the administration’s paralysis left it unprepared for foreseeable events like the Aug. 21 gas attack.”
Those hawkish advisors lament that “decisive action by Washington… could have bolstered moderate forces battling Mr. Assad’s troops for more than two years, and helped stem the rising toll of civilian dead, blunt the influence of radical Islamist groups among the rebels and perhaps even deter the Syria government from using chemical weapons.”
But, as the Times quotes one former senior official: “We spent so much damn time navel gazing, and that’s the tragedy of it.”
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Of course, the administrative ambivalence towards Syrian action was not only a result of internal debate, but also contradictory suggestions from top officials.
The Times recounts how in early 2012, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “gave a slide-show presentation in the Situation Room… that helped take any military option off the table. Imposing a no-fly zone, he said, would require as many as 70,000 American servicemen to dismantle Syria’s sophisticated …