After resisting for more than two years hawkish political pressures to intervene militarily in Syria's bitter civil war, the Obama administration apparently has decided that now's the time. On Friday, news agencies reported that the US will begin supplying small arms and ammunition to the Syrian opposition. When, how much, and precisely to whom remains at this point unspecified. If the reports are true, we're about to undertake a new military commitment in a very murky conflict, a commitment strongly opposed by most Americans. Even those urging it most stridently can't even begin to predict the consequences. It's worth asking, why now? The nominal answer, according to reports, is that the White House has concluded that the Syrian government has indeed used chemical weapons on a small scale, thus breaching the no-chemicals red line declared by President Obama last August. The evidence underwriting that conclusion is equivocal at best, based almost entirely on opposition claims and medical examinations of alleged victims. Even then, US intelligence sources count fewer than 200 possible chemical casualties, this, from what would be a strategically moronic exercise for which no one, including the opposition itself, has been able to suggest a militarily defensible purpose. Instead, the real incentive for the administration to intervene now probably reflects other much less humanitarian pressures. Perhaps the most immediate are concerns that the military momentum has begun to shift in the Syrian government's favor. During the past few weeks, reinforced by fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah, government forces have recaptured the town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, begun clearing the provinces of Homs and Hama, and now threaten Aleppo, Syria's largest city and the rebellion's center of gravity. In a briefing Monday for foreign journalists, Israel's minister for international affairs, strategy, and intelligence bluntly conceded that Assad might not just survive, but even regain territories from the rebels. Although his remarks were publicly disavowed by other Israeli officials, many quietly agree. Still anther pressure on the White House is new criticism from nominal presidential allies. Joining Sen. John McCain, by far the most vocal promoter of US military intervention, at a closed to the press event Tuesday that leaked almost immediately, former President Bill Clinton suggested that Mr. Obama would be a total fool to allow public opinion to deter him from intervening on behalf of the rebels. If he refused to act because there was a poll in the morning paper, that said 80 percent of Americans were against it, he reportedly declared, he'd look like a total wuss, this from the fellow who, when he was on the hot seat, allegedly consulted public opinion polls
before deciding what to eat for breakfast.