As the United States are moving into the Syrian conflict by openly stating that they will arm the rebels in response to “violation of the red line” established by Obama, what is the real impact of the US declaration?
Is arming the rebels the answer?
As the Austrian foreign minister said: “Middle East lacks many things, but not weapons”. The principle of arming the rebels is based on the assumption that more weapons will force the regime to sit to the negotiations table and eventually to step down. I honestly doubt it.
First, unless the United States provides the rebels with heavy weapons, as anti-tank or anti-aircraft, there will be no significant change. Many foreign countries have already provided the opposition groups light weapons (as an example: Croatia shipping weapons to Syria in Jordan planes) with the support of the US and despite of this the rebels have lost momentum.
Second, more weapons will only help to worsen a conflict that has lasted for more than two years and that is getting more and more sectarian as war continues. How to know that the weapons will only be used in fighting Assad and not in retaliation against minorities (such as the christians and the alawites)?
Finally, how to know which rebel groups to arm? This is the quid of the question. I am asuming that the United States will only give weapons to “good” moderate rebels and not to the “bad” radical rebels. While it can be easy to make the difference between one and another in Washington, it may not be that clear in the Syrian battlefield. What will be the differenciating point? Anti-americanism? Being less religious? The truth is that they will take a huge risk by arming the rebels, as the US will have no guarantees that these weapons will not end in jihadists hands and being used against american interests in the future (and there are quite a lot of examples in recent history).
Receiving arms would imply a pledge to United States interests, something that will likely not be accepted by most of the, let’s say so, “good” moderate rebels. Until now, only groupe that has cheered the new approach to the Syrian crisis is the Syrian Support Group, which doesn’t exactly represent the oppositions majority point of view.
What has changed?
Allegations over the use of chemical weapons in Syria existed before. United Nations spokesmen have stated in the past that evidence indicated that both sides in the conflict had already used them. So, what has changed?
In my opinion, the reverse in Qusayr battle has pushed the United States into a demonstration of force. Clearly, the objective is to prevent Assad’s regime into getting back the control of the country to debilitate Iran and the Shia Axis (Iran-Syria-Hezbollah). However, the question is: how far will the united States go in the fight against Assad? If the Syrian army successes in recovering the control of Aleppo from the rebels, will the United States take their implication in the conflict to a further level?
I totally recommend Joshua Keating’s interview to Milton Bearden (published in FP on June 14th): “Don’t Try to Convince Yourself That You’re in Control”. Afghan lessons for arming the Syrian rebels from the CIA’s mujahideen point man.