Arms contradiction

4/4/2013

President Obama insists that U.S. aid to Syrian rebels is nonlethal and humanitarian. But the New York Times reports that the CIA is helping Arab governments and Turkey buy and deliver arms to the Syrian opposition. This dichotomy illustrates America’s contradictory policy goals toward Syria.

The United States properly wants the rebels to succeed in overthrowing the government of President Bashar Assad. But the Obama Administration realizes that the nature of the Syrian rebel movement poses serious problems to those who want to help it win.

The movement is disorganized. It includes disparate elements, including some linked to al-Qaeda, some Islamist extremists, and some who could be considered terrorists.

What will be the nature of a successor government to Assad’s if regime change is achieved in Damascus? Will it be a coherent government, an extreme Islamist regime, or simply chaos?

These questions must be raised not only in light of America’s potential relationship with a new government, but also in the context of Syria’s strategic position in the region. Syria shares a border with Israel, a U.S. ally, and is contiguous to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey — a potentially explosive collection of hot spots.

These considerations initially caused President Obama to take a prudent approach to Syria, despite the human suffering occasioned by the civil war. The United States has responded to humanitarian problems with aid, including a just-announced $200 million more to help Syrian refugees sheltered in Jordan.

Now, Americans have learned that the Obama Administration helped Arab governments buy arms in Croatia for the rebels, and helped organize the transport of those weapons through Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey for more than a year. It may be only a matter of time until the Assad government strikes back at Jordan’s tottering monarchy in response to the active part the United States has helped Jordan play in Syria’s civil war.

The administration must fully explain the U.S. role in the civil war to Congress and to the nation. Americans do not like to learn about a major contradiction in U.S. arms policy in the media. They need to hear from the President.