Jack Tame: Syria decision a gamble

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No matter which way you look at it, the decision was always a gamble.

Raise 'em. Hold 'em. Fold 'em.

But Senator John McCain should certainly have known better.

"Scandal!" he tweeted, after being caught out by a photographer playing iPhone poker during a special Senate committee briefing on Syria.

It hardly bred public confidence in the process of informing decisions.

To be fair, McCain is, in his own mind at least, pretty well briefed on Syria already. The former Presidential candidate visited this year and met Syrian rebels, and is endorsing a much larger-scale intervention than pretty much every other American politician.

If you had to pick the way McCain's colleagues will vote when Congress decides on a Syrian intervention, it's the support of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a few high profile Republicans that possibly tips the scales in President Obama's favour. After three years of impasse and stagnation, of a bitter partisan split, the US Congress could finally unite. Albeit, in the name of targeted mid-range cruise missiles.

It was an enormous political gamble on the President's behalf to even give them a vote in the first place. Perhaps Barack Obama was spooked by David Cameron's failure to win the support of the British parliament, or perhaps he truly believes Congressional support strengthens his country's democracy.

One man's indecision and dilly-dallying is another's strong, determined leadership.

But as the US public is increasingly aware there's nothing in this for them. Their President isn't advocating an attack for the sake the millions of civilians whose lives have and are being destroyed by war. After all, more than 100,000 had been killed in Syria before the chemical attack. The US stood by all the while.

The best that can be achieved by a US-led strike is some sort of protection of what had become a generally agreed-upon rule of war: that the use of chemical weapons in any conflict is wholly unacceptable. It's a rule with little impact on life in day-to-day American society: a rule that few Americans actually have a personal interest in protecting.

Any US attack will be so comparatively small it'll hardly affect the path of Syria's civil war and the US President himself has been open in explaining it won't be designed to do so. Bashar al Assad's forces will continue killing as freely as they have for two-and-a-half years.

So is it worth gambling Syrian retaliation, a prolonged US intervention, and potentially much larger scale conflict, for the sake of wrist-slapping a murderous dictator?

Hold 'em. Fold 'em.

Either way, there's no winning to be had.

- Herald on Sunday

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