Greg Scoblete comments on the claim that not arming the Syrian opposition “cedes ground” to jihadists:
Let’s presume the U.S. arms the rebels – but only the Good Ones Who Share Our Values – and they’re able to fight more effectively against Assad’s forces. Will the jihadists decide to quit the battlefield? Why would they do that? Are we supposed to assume that the Syrian forces fighting the Assad regime will instantly turn their guns on the jihadists in their midst if and when they succeed in overthrowing Assad? Won’t they have bigger fish to fry at that point?
A few months ago, a common interventionist argument was that the U.S. needed to organize and unite the fragmented opposition, and now the plea is to arm just some of the opposition, the ones that supposedly won’t create security problems for the region or the West in a few years’ time. The argument changes, but the goal remains the same: send more weapons into Syria to precipitate regime collapse. In addition to concerns about how U.S.-supplied arms are used in the conflict and what might become of them after the current phase of the conflict ends, very few interventionists seem interested in thinking through the consequences of what they are proposing in terms of regional stability and security.
Assuming that the opposition forces that “share our values” can be identified and armed, their priorities will still likely be different from those of our government. Even if there are opposition forces that profess to “share our values,” this is an area where Americans seem particularly willing to accept a group’s claims of adhering to democratic principles because it is what they want to hear. If the KLA and MEK can effectively sell themselves as democratic freedom fighters (or buy the support of Americans that will vouch for their credentials as such), there is no gang or militia on earth that interventionists could not persuade themselves to view in the same way.
If professing “shared values” is what it takes to receive shipments of weapons, many groups will do their best to pretend that their values are the same as ours, and I suspect that those eager to “lead” in Syria will not look too carefully at their backgrounds, ideology, or prior allegiances. As far as these groups are concerned, that is just an unavoidable hoop that they have to jump through to receive patronage, and it will be amazing how many are willing to jump through it if it means increased military aid. In the end, conditioning military support on “shared values” is a pious fiction. We are meant to believe that advocates for intervention aren’t perfectly willing to lend support to whatever force that exists that poses the greatest threat to the current government, when, in fact, they are.