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Why the Neocon Clamor For Intervention in Syria Is About Israeli Regional Dominance

A desire to make Obama look weak and the specter of a new Middle East where Israel faces more regional pressure are main factors behind the neoconservative push for intervention.

Senators Lieberman and McCain at a Munich security conference.
Photo Credit: Kai Mork/Wikimedia Commons


As fighting in Syria continues to rage, the Obama administration's wait-and-see approach to the conflict is coming under increasing assault. Not coincidentally, the advocates for US intervention in Syria are represented by a coalition of the same strange bedfellows that pushed for an invasion of Iraq a decade ago: neoconservatives and liberal hawks. And, like the Iraqi misadventure, their calls are guided by misconceptions, a lack of understanding of the region and a blurring of US, global political and Israeli interests.

The calls are having some effect, as President Obama recently threatened intervention for the first time, citing as his red line the Syrian government's possible use of chemical weapons in the fighting. The crucial question is why the interventionists, who do not have a track record of humanitarian compassion but rather one for cynical rhetoric that couches larger geopolitical goals in the language of humanitarianism, are determined to see a U.S. presence in Syria.

There are, to be sure, reasons given that go beyond concern for the innocent lives already lost and the many more at risk in the Syrian conflict. In a recent op-ed, senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), all prominent critics of Obama's foreign policy, gave a few:

"Our lack of active involvement on the ground in Syria also means that, when the Assad regime finally does fall, the Syrian people are likely to feel little goodwill toward the United States…the United States has significant national security interests at stake in Syria. These include preventing the use or transfer of the regime’s massive chemical- and biological-weapons stockpiles— a real and growing danger — and ensuring that al-Qaeda and its violent brethren are unable to secure a new foothold in the heart of the Middle East."

These claims of US interests can be easily dismissed. The issue of "goodwill" is unlikely to be a factor. In general, countries act according to their perceived interests, not because they feel some moral debt to one another, as intelligence expert Paul Pillar points out. In this case, many of the parties involved in the Syrian rebellion are not going to be well-disposed toward the US no matter what. The popular forces -- those Syrians who started the uprising and were fighting for the freedom of their country -- have longstanding grievances against the United States, particularly its tacit support of Israel's capture and unrecognized annexation of the Golan Heights. The more sectarian and nationalist groups are certain to resist any hint of US influence, even if they are willing to accept US aid during a fight where they are severely outgunned. As Israel has been aware from the beginning, there is little chance that any new Syrian regime will be more disposed toward peace with Israel, a sine qua non for renewed relations with the United States.

The Syrian weapons stockpile is an obvious concern, but there's no reason to believe the threat is any greater in a Syria that is free of Assad who, after all, is described by these same people as a lynchpin in the "export of terror" that Iran, Hezbollah and others partake in. The potential partners could change, but the issue remains largely the same. In any case, this is actually an area where local actors, like Israel or Turkey, would be better equipped to handle this than the US would.

Finally, we must think that the good senators surely noticed that it was America's presence in Iraq that created the "foothold (for) al-Qaeda and its violent brethren." Yet they urge the same course in Syria.

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