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The Folly of Arming the Syrian Opposition

Former Ambassador Robert Ford said [1] this in an interview earlier this week about arming the “moderate” opposition in Syria (via Scoblete [1]):

To be very frank, we have plenty of information on reliable groups [bold mine-DL], and we have long had that. It is a question of whether or not there’s will to actually help people whose agenda is compatible with our national security interests [bold mine-DL], and then to make a decision and push forward.

Ford unintentionally draws attention to some of the main reasons why it has never made sense to arm any part of the Syrian opposition. First, there is no such thing as a truly “reliable” group in these conflicts. No matter how agreeable a group’s stated agenda and ideology may appear, the U.S. gains no meaningful influence and control over the groups that it arms, and it cannot rely on these groups to do anything except pursue their own goals. In the short term, that may seem expedient because they claim to have similar goals, but that guarantees nothing later on. The main problem isn’t that the U.S. lacks information about the groups requesting weapons, though it might, but that it doesn’t know what will happen if it succeeds in promoting regime change by proxy.

It is especially irresponsible to arm factions in foreign civil wars, because there is a decent chance that weapons provided by the U.S. can be used to commit atrocities or will be lost to other groups that the U.S. absolutely doesn’t want to provide with advanced weapons. Like most other hawks, Syria hawks usually don’t take seriously the possibility that things can go wrong. If the U.S. had done as Ford wanted, it would then have been expected to do even more to support the opposition once sending arms proved to be inadequate. We can expect the same Syria hawks that have assured us that this wouldn’t be necessary to come back to tell us that more aggressive U.S. action is imperative.

Another main objection to arming any part of the Syrian opposition is that it is not at all obvious that it is compatible with “our national security interests” to do so. How are U.S. interests actually served by encouraging regime collapse in Syria? We are already seeing the evils of partial regime collapse. There is no reason to think that contributing to its complete breakdown would do anything except create even more refugees and more civilian casualties. That won’t make the U.S. or any of Syria’s neighbors more secure, but will do just the opposite.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "The Folly of Arming the Syrian Opposition"

#1 Comment By icarusr On June 5, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

“Like most other hawks, Syria hawks usually don’t take seriously the possibility that things can go wrong.”

Or, perhaps, so long as Obama is President, they don’t mind if things go wrong. Look, I don’t mean to be cynical, and I certainly don’t think that most conservatives consciously think this way, but it is impossible not to take seriously the possibility that overlooking the risks while advocating dangerous courses of action is a feature, not a bug, of the so-called analysis. Encourage to take action, if it goes well, take credit and criticise the execution nevertheless, if it goes poorly, blame fecklessness and incompetence and double down on strategy.

#2 Comment By James Canning On June 5, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

Robert Ford implies the US can deetermine the outcome of civil war in Syria. NOT TRUE.

#3 Comment By amspirnational On June 5, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

Dan, the Israeli leadership is already, though belatedly, on record. It wants Assad out because it fears the Syrian-Hezbollah-Iran alliance more than Sunni jihadists whom it assumes can be in turn thwarted by the US as soon as Assad is gone.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 5, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

Yesterday’s terrorists are today’s freedom fighters, based on the changing landscape of what best serves perceived elite financialists’ “security” interests – and perceived advantages. One thing’s always sure – it’s in the interests of the military-industrial-comples to make money providing arms at the expense of the downwardly-mobile American taxpayer.

#5 Comment By Wake Up On June 5, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

These people amaze me. We’ve got Mexico collapsing right on our own border, drug cartels made up of ultraviolent, sadistic animals taking over, an almost mythically corrupt government cashing in on the misery of its own weakest and most defenseless people, masses of abandoned children and other dispossessed pouring into our border states, all while these absurd, Middle-East obsessed fantasists imagine that we have any stake whatsoever in a civil war taking place halfway around the world.

When are the NY Times, the CFR, the Washington Post and the rest of the mainstream media going to wake up and realize that MEXICO IS FALLING TO PIECES, and that IT MATTERS? Syria and every other damned Middle Eastern hellhole are meaningless compared to the staggering crisis right in our backyard.

#6 Comment By FranzLiebkind On June 5, 2014 @ 5:46 pm

It’s incredibly unpalatable, and certainly impossible politically. But in theory, if the US wishes to make sure that Sunni jihadis don’t gain a permanent safe area in Syria, wouldn’t the best bet be to see that the Alawite secular nationalist Assad defeats them utterly, even if this means giving him aid or at least some diplomatic cover?
And might not this gain the US some additional leverage in the nuclear negotiations with Iran?

#7 Comment By Northern observer On June 5, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

Franz. But that would be too intelligent and reasonable.