The White House opposes sending arms to the opposition, saying further militarization in Syria would only lead to more chaos. The administration also says there isn't enough clear information about the makeup of the opposition or assurances that the weapons wouldn't end up in the hands of al-Qaida, Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations.
Instead, the White House is hoping a steady stream of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure can weaken Assad's grip on power. While administration officials say they are discussing with allies potential next steps for dealing with Syria, the lack of any publicly defined specific options under consideration has opened the president up to criticism.
"At some point you need to come up with a policy to make Assad step down or acknowledge that you're not going to do it," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
For Obama, military engagement with Syria may not be feasible from either a policy and political perspective. Syria, unlike Libya, has greater defense capabilities, and administration officials doubt a bombing campaign could be accomplished quickly and relatively bloodlessly. Engaging U.S. forces in Syria would also run counter to Obama's foreign policy campaign narrative, which is built on being the president who ends wars, with the Iraq conflict coming to a close under his watch and the Afghanistan campaign winding down.
The violence in Syria has spiraled out of control as the uprising against Assad that began in March 2011 has morphed into an armed insurgency. An estimated 13,000 people have died so far.
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