There are at least two schools of thought regarding President Barack Obama's conduct of U.S. foreign policy. One holds that he knows what he's doing. The other suggests that he's a bull in a china shop.
Last week's White House announcement that the United States will give more military aid, including weapons, to Syrian "rebels" seems to tip the balance toward the latter.
Obama's Syrian problem started with a jerk of the knee two years ago. "Rebels" had launched protests, peaceful and then violent, against the Assad regime, and Obama thought the Arab Spring had returned.
His messianic complex finally got the better of him, and he declared, "The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."
The death toll at the time was 2,000.
Assad didn't step aside, so Obama doubled down. He helped Saudi Arabia and Qatar arm the "rebels," and he authorized U.S. training for them.
Today, two years later, the death toll stands at an estimated 93,000.
Obama perseveres. He promises more weapons for the "rebels," and Saudi Arabia donates shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank guns to the cause.
The death toll a year from now? Hard telling, but it's likely to be much higher.
Obama is as inarticulate as he is undaunted, and U.S. objectives, beyond making good on his vision for Syria, are unclear at best.
He told a sympathetic interviewer the other day that we (you and me) can't understand the Syrian situation because we "haven't been in the Situation Room" at the White House.
Sure. But we can recognize a slippery slope when we see one, and in the view of many, including some on the left, Obama has started to slide down the path to full U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war
Bob Dreyfuss, a freelance investigative journalist writing in "The Nation," believes Syria could turn into another Vietnam, with Obama making similar mistakes "simply because he won't want to tolerate an Assad victory."
Meanwhile, important questions hang in the air. What vital U.S. interests are on the line in Syria? How much of our national treasure ? blood and money ? is Obama willing to spend? And what makes him, or anyone else, for that matter, think that arming the "rebels" will lead to democracy in Syria and long-term stability in the Middle East?
An overarching question: Who are the "rebels?"
The uprising was sparked by ragtag groups two years ago, but radical Islamists and elements of al-Qaeda are taking over.
Example: Ghurabaa al-Sham, a moderate rebel group, has fallen apart in the last month. The group's leader told a Reuters reporter on Wednesday that his 2,000-man "army" was attacked by radical Islamists. They seized his weapons, ammunition and cars, and his force has fallen to 100 or so men. The Sharia Authority has taken over in the city of Aleppo.
Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, believes more fighting will lead to the disintegration of Syria, and he seems to have a point.
The new "rebels" are not likely to yield. After all, more weapons are on the way, and Sunni clerics in other Arab nations, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are calling for "jihad" against Assad and his followers.
Likewise, Assad is not likely to yield. He has the backing of Russia and Iran, and he knows that walking away could subject his 2.7 million Shiite followers (12 percent of Syria's population) to a blood-bath at the hands of the hard-line Sunnis.
Given the circumstances, then, Obama and other U.S. hawks (GOP Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, especially) need to stop feeding the tiger and refocus on real threats to our vital national interests. And a good place to start would be Iran and its nuclear weapons program.