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

Although sometimes characterized as a Republican “maverick” for his bipartisan forays into domestic policy, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks.


Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a stalwart advocate of the Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump


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.”


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.


A right-wing Christian and governor of Kansas, Brownback previously served in the U.S. Senate, where he gained a reputation as a leading social conservative as well as an outspoken “pro-Israel” hawk on U.S. Middle East policy.


Steve Forbes, head of the Forbes magazine empire, is an active supporter of a number of militarist policy organizations that have pushed for aggressive U.S. foreign policies.


Stephen Hadley, an Iraq War hawk and former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, now chairs the U.S. Institute for Peace.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The Trump administration appears to have been surprised by this breach among its friends in the critical Gulf strategic area. But it is difficult to envision an effective U.S. role in rebuilding this Humpty-Dumpty.


Print Friendly

A recent vote in the European Parliament shows how President Trump’s relentless hostility to Iran is likely to isolate Washington more than Tehran.


Print Friendly

The head of the Institute for Science and International Security—aka “the Good ISIS”—recently demonstrated again his penchant for using sloppy analysis as a basis for politically explosive charges about Iran, in this case using a faulty translation from Persian to misleadingly question whether Tehran is “mass producing advanced gas centrifuges.”


Print Friendly

Trump has exhibited a general preference for authoritarians over democrats, and that preference already has had impact on his foreign policy. Such an inclination has no more to do with realism than does a general preference for democrats over authoritarians.


Print Friendly

The President went to the region as a deal maker and a salesman for American weapon manufacturing. He talked about Islam, terrorism, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the benefit of expert advice in any of these areas. After great showmanship in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, he and his family left the region without much to show for or to benefit the people of that war-torn region.


Print Friendly

Although the Comey memo scandal may well turn out to be what brings Trump down, this breach of trust may have had more lasting effect than any of Trump’s other numerous misadventures. It was an unprecedented betrayal of Israel’s confidence. Ironically, Trump has now done what even Barack Obama’s biggest detractors never accused him of: seriously compromised Israel’s security relationship with the United States.


Print Friendly

Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.


RightWeb
share