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.

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

Update was slow, but still no lag in the editor window, and footnotes are intact.     This has been updated – Bernard Lewis, who passed away in May 2018, was a renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor, Lewis was…


Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


For the past few decades the vast majority of private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp operating internationally have come from a relatively small number of countries: the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, and Russia. But that seeming monopoly is opening up to new players, like DeWe Group, China Security and Protection Group, and Huaxin Zhongan Group. What they all have in common is that they are from China.


The Trump administration’s massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment.


Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


RightWeb
share