Mark Palmer and Paul Wolfowitz want the U.S. to arm the Syrian opposition:

Material support must also include weapons. But that does not mean tanks or artillery or other weapons that would escalate the violence. What the opposition needs are defensive weapons so it can protect its own people, particularly defectors from the Syrian army.

This position doesn’t make sense. Palmer and Wolfowitz say they don’t want to escalate the violence, but they do want to provide weapons to the opposition, which will escalate the violence. At the same time, they don’t want to provide the kinds of weapons that might eventually give the rebels even the slightest realistic chance of winning, so they favor escalating the violence without changing the eventual outcome. Contrary to what they claim, it is their preferred option that is a recipe for “prolonging the conflict, meaning more people killed, more scores to settle, and more power in the hands of armed fighters.” What these two propose will lead to more Syrian deaths, but it will not begin to match the government’s numbers and weapons, which highlights the futility of the course of action they are advocating.

As Josh Rogin reported today, the administration has approved non-lethal assistance for the Syrian opposition:

Last week, a group of senior Obama administration officials met to finalize a package of options for aiding both the internal and external Syrian opposition, to include providing direct humanitarian and communications assistance to the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable. This meeting of what’s known as the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council set forth a new and assertive strategy for expanding U.S. engagement with Syrian activists and providing them with the means to organize themselves, but stops short of providing any direct military assistance to the armed opposition.

For now, riskier options, such as creating a no-fly zone in Syria, using U.S. military force there, or engaging directly with the Free Syrian Army, are all still off the table. But the administration has decided not to oppose, either in public or in private, the arming of the rebels by other countries, the officials said.

If I had any confidence that this was the extent of U.S. involvement in Syria, I might not see a problem with it, but this is unfortunately a decision that openly commits the U.S. to the weaker side in another country’s civil war. Having conceded the argument that the U.S. should back the opposition directly, it will be just a matter of time until that commitment expands to other forms of support. Advocates for additional support will cite this decision as proof that the U.S. is already involved, and they will continue to use the administration’s rhetoric to cajole it into doing more. It would have been welcome news if the U.S. could have minded its own business for a change.

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