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In Syria, do Americans hear echoes of Vietnam and Iraq? (+video)

Polls consistently show most Americans oppose direct military involvement in the Syrian civil war. But that changes with the presumption that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons.

By Staff writer / June 15, 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters watch as their fellow fighters shell the airport controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo on Friday, June 14, 2013. The Obama administration is considering what kind of military aid to send to rebel fighters.

Nour Kelze/REUTERS

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In deciding to provide weapons to rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – too late, in the view of many critics – President Obama correctly senses the reluctance of most Americans to engage in foreign wars not clearly tied to national security.

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Older Americans remember the sketchy basis for escalating the war in Vietnam (the now-discredited Tonkin Gulf Resolution). Younger people remember the questionable Bush administration argument for the US-led invasion and then occupation of Iraq (those elusive “weapons of mass destruction”).

There are other reasons for Obama’s caution in providing military aid to the Syrian rebels – even light arms and not the heavy weapons they want. For one thing, some of those insurgents have ties to al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups.

Obama feels the political pressure to act now that the “red line” he set – government forces in Syria using chemical weapons against rebels and civilians – has been crossed. Britain, France, and Israel already had already cited the use of chemical weapons. Obama is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this coming week, and Libya surely will be discussed.

Plus, there’s his philosophical and political disinclination to approach what could be a slippery slope. (Remember the talk about “leading from behind” in Libya – a phrase never uttered by Obama but attributed to an advisor?)

So how do Americans feel about this announced escalation of US involvement in Syria – including, according to a Reuters report, consideration of a no-fly zone to limit the regime’s air power.

(Reuters also reports that “Washington has quietly taken steps that would make it easier, moving Patriot surface-to-air missiles, war planes and more than 4,000 troops into Jordan, officially as part of an annual exercise in the past week but making clear that the assets could stay on when the wargames are over.”)

Until now, the pattern in public opinion has been clear.

“Polling conducted in recent months suggests that President Barack Obama is bucking public opinion in opting to authorize military aid to the Syrian rebels,” write Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy in the Huffington Post.

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