The peril of arming Syrian rebels

Michael Rubin has a string of worthwhile posts up at Commentary, including reports from Iraq where he is visiting. I want to call particular attention, though, to Rubin’s post about Syria, which draws heavily from what he has learned in Iraq.

Rubin argues that “arming Syrian rebels is strategic suicide.” He explains:

This trip. . .has been a wake-up call: Not only Iraqi Shi’ites, but also Iraqi Christians, Iraqi Kurds, and even many Iraqi Sunnis oppose American provision of arms to the Syrian rebels on the grounds that the Syrian rebels are either more radical than the Americans realize, or that nothing will prevent the so-called moderates whom the United States arms from selling or losing the weaponry to the radicals.

There is a real sense of urgency, here, as Iraqis believe they will be the first victims of Sunni radicalism in neighboring Syria. . . .Regardless of ethnicity and sectarian preference, a consensus is emerging in Iraq about the character of the Syrian opposition.

With all due respect to congressmen and some advocates for arming the Syrian rebels, those in the region are better able to vet Syrian rebels than U.S. officials 6,000 miles away. As tempting as it may be to think otherwise, and just as it remains with the Mujahedin al-Khalq and the Islamic Republic, the enemy of one’s enemy is not always one’s friend.

Rubin doesn’t conclude that the U.S. should therefore favor Assad’s continuation in power. An Assad victory, he says, “would embolden both Tehran and Moscow and ensure the spread of conflict to areas far more important to the United States.”

But Rubin argues, as I have, that the answer “is not to give weaponry to the Syrian rebels—a move that would make the ‘Fast and Furious’ scandal seem positively benevolent.” Rather, if anything, we should “use American air power to prevent any aspect of the conflict perpetrated by either side which could undercut American security.”

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