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U.S. intervention in Syria enters new phase

Associated Press

President Obama didn't leave himself a whole lot of wiggle room: if the Assad regime in Syria was found to have used chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, it would trigger a new phase of U.S. involvement in the conflict, beyond humanitarian assistance.

And as of yesterday, as Rachel explained on the show last night, U.S. officials concluded with confidence that the red line had been crossed. The result is military assistance the Obama administration has, up until now, resisted.

The Obama administration, concluding that the troops of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in his country's civil war, has decided to begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition, according to American officials.

The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took it upon himself to personally announce the administration's shift on the Senate floor late yesterday, before the White House had even confirmed the decision. Is this indicative of McCain's support for the new policy? Not exactly -- for many on the right, the decision to arm rebels is welcome, but it's too late and it's short of the no-fly zone neocons claim is necessary.

So, what are we to make of the new administration policy? If you missed Rachel's discussion with Chris Hayes, it's well worth your time, but as the shift comes into sharper focus, I feel like there are ultimately more questions than answers about the merits of even this degree of intervention.

In light of Syria's support from countries like Russia and Iran, are we seeing the beginnings of a larger proxy fight? How confident are U.S. officials about providing support to rebels without also boosting elements aligned with al Qaeda? Countries like England and France have pushed for greater U.S. intervention in recent months, but if they're so confident, why haven't they done more?

And more broadly, what are our strategic goals? Clearly, the Obama administration would like to see Assad's government fall, but does that mean even greater intervention if arming the rebels does not produce the desired result? In other words, are we on a path: first humanitarian aid, then military aid, then a no-fly zone, then boots on the ground?

For that matter, fall to whom?