US to Arm Syrian Rebels

The Obama administration has finally caved to the Syria hawks in arming the rebels and is now considering implementing a no-fly zone:

“The United States has concluded that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in its fight against opposition forces, and President Obama has authorized direct US military support to the rebels.”

It’s difficult to fit into a few words everything that’s wrong with the administration’s decision to begin arming the rebels.

It is likely to lengthen the conflict and it gives Russia and Iran reason to continue arming Assad. Sectarian reprisals, like the one in a Shiite town recently, are likely to repeat themselves. Similarly, Syria’s Christians already have targets painted on their backs and now they will have the benefit of having superior American arms aiming at them. Not to mention, we are siding, in a civil war, with Sunnis against the government Washington installed in Baghdad which is in league with Iran, which is the adversary we are trying to hobble by assisting the rebels. Is that enough?

Obviously part of the problem was Obama’s insistence that “Assad must go” and his vague talk about chemical weapons as a “red line.” It was the perfectly unambitious gambit to give hawks in both parties the excuse to claim Obama wasn’t doing enough. Now he’s doing something, but it won’t be long before we hear that more needs to be done.

What Washington is really doing is intervening on the side of al Qaeda. The official story is that the US is only arming the “moderates” and responsible actors in the opposition. PRISM notwithstanding, readers may need to look past my skepticism that an administration that can’t competently drop off weapons near its own southern border somehow has the ability to do adequate background checks on the Syrian rebels. But the old expression still holds: a rising tide lifts all boats.

Maybe Obama and Co. think they are arming a force of pluralistic, feminist multiculturalists, but if this policy actually succeeds, the al Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s man in Syria, wins along with them.

Let’s just hope John McCain isn’t a part of this process.

Let’s also consider what the administration has decided to do. For over a year we’ve heard that the Assad regime was in its last throes and that it was only a matter of time. Well, Assad’s held on pretty long for someone on his last days, with a little help from Russia and Iran. But last week, the Syrian army took one of the rebel strongholds, the town of Qusayr. It was a significant setback because the town was an important supply line for the rebels and could have meant an end to the war. But since an Assad victory was not the outcome Washington wanted, something had to be done. Might this be what we mean by Washington “picking winners and losers”?

In my estimation, the arms being promised right now probably won’t make a difference in turning the war for the rebels. The more likely outcome is that it will go back to a stalemate with a lot of headaches for American interests in the region and the usual suspects demanding more action.