Obama kept us out of the Syrian war, but now that the election is over, his administration is moving toward a deeper engagement. David Sanger and Eric Schmitt’s report in the New York Times this morning makes it unmistakably clear that Washington is considering far-reaching steps that could involve the United States much more profoundly in the struggle for the future of Syria.
On the whole, we support the administration in this. Although the devil is certain to be in the details and the risks are real, the strategic stakes in Syria justify greater American involvement. But the administration’s failure to come clean about the evolution of its thinking on Syria before the election will cause problems. If the United States does get engaged in Syria, even leading from behind, Obama’s detractors will argue that the President doesn’t have a mandate for the steps he takes.
Supporters of the administration can point out that Obama won’t be the first president to run on a peace platform and then fight a war. Woodrow Wilson’s slogan in his successful campaign for reelection in 1916 was “he kept us out of war.” Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1940 after saying that he was not going to send American boys to fight and die in a foreign war. And of course in 1964 Lyndon Johnson ran as the dove on Vietnam against Barry Goldwater, the hawk. Even George Bush, running in 2000, ran on a platform of lowering America’s international profile.
Some of those presidencies ended well; others not so much. But at this point, Obama looks like he will be joining the ranks of peace candidates who became interventionist presidents.