Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Renewed Push in U.S. to Arm Syrian Rebels

Neoconservatives and their allies in Congress have strengthened their calls to arm Syrian opposition groups, despite the fact that such a move would likely create more problems than it solves.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

What with rumors from Israel of war on Iran, a major showdown with the Egyptian military over the indictments of government-funded U.S. activists in Cairo, and continuing political paralysis in Iraq, you would think President Barack Obama has enough Middle East crises to deal with.

But in the aftermath of the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the U.N. Security Council of an Arab League-sponsored resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down as part of a transition leading to elections, calls for Washington to take stronger action, including arming rebel forces, have grown much louder. 

So far, the administration has resisted the pressure, focusing instead on convening a "Friends of Syria" contact group of anti-Assad Western and Arab states to ensure that whatever support may be provided to the chronically fractious opposition is coordinated to the greatest possible extent. 

Washington is particularly eager to coordinate policy with Turkey. 

Citing the precedent of last year's U.S. intervention in Libya, three of the Senate's most hawkish members said Wednesday sanctions and the creation of the contact group were not enough. 

"In Libya, the threat of imminent atrocities in Benghazi mobilized the world to act," Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman said in a joint statement. "Such atrocities are now a reality in Homs and other cities all across Syria. More than 6,000 lives have been lost, and there is no end in sight." 

"We must consider, among other actions, providing opposition groups inside Syria, both political and military, with better means to organize their activities …, to defend themselves, and to fight back against Assad's forces," urged the three senators. 

Their remarks echoed those of neo-conservatives and other hawks who have been arguing for months that Washington should intervene more forcefully in the ongoing violence in Syria for strategic, as well as humanitarian reasons. 

"Syria is the soft underbelly of Iran, Tehran's most important ally, (and a) conduit for arms and cash to terrorists," wrote Danielle Pletka, the vice president for foreign and defence policy studies at the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), on CNN's website this week in support of arming the Turkey-based Free Syrian Army (FSA), among other steps to help oust Assad from power. 

"A unique confluence of American moral purpose and America's strategic interest argue for intervention in Syria," she argued. "It's time to do something tangible." 

The hawks, whose advice has been echoed on the campaign trail by three of the four major Republican presidential candidates (Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum), have been joined by some prominent “pro-Israel” liberals, including some who supported the 2003 Iraq invasion and last year's use of a U.N.- mandated no-fly zone to achieve regime change in Libya. 

"How can the president dine out on Libya if he is not prepared to do the same for Syria?" asked Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, which this Thursday launched a rolling "symposium" on what to do about Syria. "Assad is perpetrating in Homs, Hama, Dara'a, and elsewhere what Qaddafi only threatened to perpetrate in Benghazi." 

"In the case of Syria, our interests accord with our values," he went on, noting that the weakening of Iran's regional position was the greater "strategic prize" to be gained from Assad's downfall. As a first step, he said Washington "should aid and arm the Free Syrian Army…" 

The drumbeat to arm the FSA, however, is drawing considerable scepticism from some influential quarters for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that the FSA, insofar as it is a coherent force, does not appear to be responsive to the Syrian National Council (SNC), the umbrella opposition group that has gained a degree of international recognition over the last several months. 

Indeed, the FSA's nominal head, Col Riad al-Assaad, denounced the SNC as a group of "traitors" last weekend after it tried to create a higher military council headed by a general who recently defected to the opposition. 

In a column published by the Financial Times Monday, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University professor who was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top policy adviser until last summer, argued that arming the FSA would lead "to certain civil war". 

"(T)he more (the FSA) goes on the offence, the more Mr. Assad's supporters will pull together and the more the conflict will divide along sectarian lines," she argued. "This is exactly the scenario the regime is trying to depict." 

Similarly, Marc Lynch, a George Washington University professor who has advised the White House throughout the so-called "Arab Spring", warned that arming a very fractious opposition "is more likely to produce a protracted stalemate, increased violence, more regional and international meddling, and eventual calls for direct military intervention." 

"The perennial, deep problem of the Syrian opposition," he wrote on his foreignpolicy.com blog, "is that it remains fragmented, disorganized, and highly localized. The 'Free Syrian Army remains something of a fiction, a convenient mailbox for a diverse, unorganized collection of local fighting groups …(that) remain deeply divided." 

Moreover, he warned, decisions about how to distribute the weapons would likely create competition within the FSA that, in turn, "could easily exacerbate their divisions", while, as fighting groups become more powerful, "those who have advocated non-violence or who advance political strategies will be marginalized." 

Joshua Landis, the director of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma whose Syria expertise is often tapped by the government, agreed with much of Lynch's analysis. 

"By militarising the conflict, the SNC and other groups the West has spent a lot of time cultivating will lose their leadership of the opposition, because power will go to those who get the guns and the money, and they may not be people who America would find as appealing." 

But Landis believes that Washington will eventually arm the opposition, noting that Qatar and others in the Gulf have begun to supply weapons, albeit not yet of the kind and quantity that could seriously threaten the regime. 

"Other than the humanitarian outrage, which does play an important role, I think there's going to be a compelling interest to get involved, in part because once somebody starts to arm, then there's a scramble for control of this new method of influence," he told IPS." 

"A major purpose of the developing a contact group is to coordinate all this, because the worry is that different countries will support different militias – The Gulfies will support the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, and the West will support the secular groups – and then, if and when the regime falls, they'd be fighting each other." 

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web. His blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Established in Baltimore in 1897, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is the oldest Zionist organization in the United States—and also among the most aggressively anti-Arab ones.


U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a retired U.S Marine Corps general and combat veteran who served as commander of U.S. Central Command during 2010-2013 before being removed by the Obama administration reportedly because of differences over Iran policy.


Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is a conservative Republican congressman who was voted into office as part of the “tea party” surge in 2011 and chosen by Donald Trump to be director of the CIA.


Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an evangelical pastor, is a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


Billionaire investor Paul Singer is the founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Corporation and an important funder of neoconservative causes.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

President Trump and his Iranophobe supporters are itching for a war with Iran, without any consideration of the disastrous consequences that will ensue.


Print Friendly

The war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea make a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis more difficult than ever to achieve.


Print Friendly

The new White House chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, is anything but non-partisan or apolitical. For the deeply conservative Kelly, the United States is endangered not only by foreign enemies but by domestic forces that either purposely, or unwittingly, support them.


Print Friendly

The prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu continuing as Israel’s prime minister are growing dim. But for those of us outside of Israel who support the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis and wish for all of those in the troubled region to enjoy equal rights, the fall of Netanyahu comes too late to make much difference.


Print Friendly

Rich Higgins, the recently fired director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, once said in an interview on Sean Hannity’s radio program, that “more Muslim Americans have been killed fighting for ISIS than have been killed fighting for the United States since 9/11.”


Print Friendly

This is how the Trump administration could try to use the IAEA to spur Iran to back out of the JCPOA.


Print Friendly

President Trump seems determined to go forward with a very hostile program toward Iran, and, although a baseless US pullout from the JCPOA seems unlikely, even the so-called “adults” are pushing for a pretext for a pullout. Such an act does not seem likely to attract European support. Instead, it will leave the United States isolated, break the nuclear arrangement and provide a very reasonable basis for Iran to restart the pursuit of a nuclear deterrent in earnest.


RightWeb
share