Last week, Obama officials publicly rejected the notion that military action in Syria would be comparable to the Iraq war. “What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change,” explained White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest in a statement last Wednesday. When it comes to Syria, Earnest guaranteed that the U.S. president “has been very clear that he is not contemplating an open-ended military action.”
There are certainly many differences between these cases. In Syria, there is a significant amount of reliable evidence to support the fact that chemical weapons were used against civilians. The evidence to support the claim that Iraq did in fact have WMDs was unreliable to say the least. Obama has said that there will be no ground troops in Syria. This was obviously not the case in Iraq.
Syria has been in a state of civil war for the past two years, with tens of thousands of casualties reported. Though Iraq didn’t have a great human rights record, it had not experienced anywhere close to as much violence as Syria has in the past couple years. In regards to comparing each situation, there are clear differences between the justifications of military action in Syria and in Iraq. Despite this, we can’t conclude that Syria will in no way be Obama’s Iraq.
In fact, quite the opposite! Despite the fact that there is more justification for a military response to the Syrian crisis, the political fallout could be similar as to what Bush and the GOP experienced leading up to the 2008 elections. Here are some facts that support this claim.
Just days before the invasion began in Iraq, a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll revealed that 65% of Americans supported the war, while 30% said no. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll released just last week, only 42% of Americans support military intervention in Syria, while a little over 50% oppose it. Meaning that even before any military strike has commenced, the majority of the American public has already opposed it. If military action occurs and fails miserably, Obama and the Democrats could be left with a PR nightmare, which could impact the Democrats in 2016.
In addition to Obama potentially tarnishing the image of the Democratic Party, many Republicans have put themselves in a position to possibly come out looking good on the issue. GOP lawmakers such as Rand Paul (R-KY), Justin Amash (R-MI), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and others have all criticized the Obama administration, Democrats and even members of their own party for supporting actions in Syria.
The last factor working against Obama in the case of Syria is the lack of external support for a military response in Syria. Both Canada and the U.K. have declined to join the effort. Ironically, France is the only country thus far to support an intervention in Syria. France had joined China and Russia in firmly opposing the Iraq War in 2003. Without international support for the effort, a unilateral or bilateral military response to Syria could further damage United States’ reputation abroad.
At this point, it is unclear what political consequences await president Obama and the Democrats. Most agree that Obama did the right thing by choosing to seek the approval of congress before authorizing the military strikes. But what happens if congress decides not to approve a military strike in Syria? Obama may decide to go ahead with the mission anyway or agree with their decision and make himself and the country look weak on foreign policy matters. Needless to say, Obama’s approach to Syria has put him between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
If Obama decides to take military action without congressional approval, he is under even more pressure to deliver a successful operation or risk even more damage to his own image and to the reputation of his party. Obama has yet to announce a strategy for Syria and hasn’t indicated what the objectives are in Syria. What is the endgame in Syria? Can Obama really guarantee that no ground troops will be needed for a successful campaign? These and other unanswered questions are not sitting well with the general public.
It’s clear that Obama has a tough road ahead of him on Syria. Regardless of whether the mission itself will be a repeat of Bush’s war in Iraq, Obama may not be able to escape the pending political outcomes of his management of the Syrian crisis.