(image by Medill DC) DMCA
It's easy to forget that just two years ago, President Obama was determined to bomb Syria and remove the Assad regime, and U.S. establishment institutions were working to lay the groundwork for that campaign. NPR began dutifully publishing reports from anonymous U.S. officials that Syria had stockpiled large amounts of chemical weapons; the NYT was reporting that Obama was "increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down" Assad; Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced that forced removal of Assad was "a matter of national security" and "a matter of the credibility of the United States of America."
Those opposed to the anti-Assad "regime change" bombing campaign argued that while some of the rebellion was composed of ordinary Syrians, the "rebels" the U.S. would arm and empower (i.e., the only effective anti-Assad fighters) were actually violent extremists and even terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda and worse. The people arguing that were invariably smeared as Assad apologists because this happened to be the same argument Assad was making: that the most effective fighters against him were jihadis and terrorists.
But that argument in D.C. was quickly converted from taboo into conventional wisdom the moment it was needed to justify U.S. involvement in Syria. The U.S. is now bombing Syria, of course, but rather than fighting against Assad, the Syrian dictator is (once again) America's ally and partner. The rationale for the U.S. bombing campaign is the same one Assad long invoked: that those fighting against him are worse than he is because they are aligned with Al Qeada and ISIS (even though the U.S. funded and armed those factions for years and their closest allies in the region continue to do so).
A similar dynamic is at play in Russia and Ukraine. Yesterday, Obama's top national security official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, told a Senate Committee "that he supports arming Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists," as the Washington Post put it. The U.S. has already provided "non-lethal" aid to Ukrainian forces, and Obama has said he is now considering arming them. Who, exactly, would that empower?