Roger Cohen joins the senseless “do something” bandwagon on Syria:
As the Bosnian war showed, the basis for any settlement must be a rough equality of forces. So I say step up the efforts, already quietly ongoing, to get weapons to the Free Syrian Army. Train those forces, just as the rebels were trained in Libya. Payback time has come around: The United States warned Assad about allowing Al Qaeda fighters to transit Syria to Iraq. Now matériel and special forces with the ability to train a ragtag army can transit Iraq — and other neighboring states — into Syria. This should be a joint effort of Western and Arab states.
The “rough equality of forces” in Bosnia that Cohen refers to included a large U.S.-equipped and trained Croatian army. Arming and training the disorganized FSA will not have the effect that Cohen wants. It will prolong and worsen the fighting (at least Cohen isn’t pretending that any of this has something to do with safeguarding the civilian population), but the aid he is proposing isn’t going to create a “rough equality of forces” or anything close to it. As brutal as Assad’s forces have been, they have not been using all of the weapons at their disposal. As the Saudis, Qataris and others provide more arms, that could change quickly to the detriment of the civilian population.
Cohen doesn’t want to give the opposition weapons without conditions:
In return, the divided Syrian opposition must provide a firm commitment to respect the rights of minorities.
Let’s suppose that all of the relevant opposition groups make such a commitment. How would the governments supplying weapons to them hold them to that commitment? If they violated it, would Cohen insist that we stop supporting them? Libyan rebel forces engaged in reprisals and committed abuses against their prisoners, but outside support for them never wavered. I can’t imagine that foreign government support for the Syrian opposition would disappear if they attacked Alawite and Christian civilian targets. They might think that “payback time has come around.” The reality is that there is no way to ensure that these weapons won’t be used in reprisals and atrocities.
Cohen doesn’t explain how funneling weapons to the much weaker side in Syria’s civil war is going to “make Syria free.” What it will do is contribute to the devastation of the country and the killing of more Syrians. It would be refreshing if interventionists dropped the pretense that contributing to the ruin of a country had something to do with freeing it.