We now know that President Obama’s national security team overwhelmingly supported providing arms to the rebels in Syria.
Last Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a Senate committee that he and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, backed a plan that would have vetted, trained and armed selected opposition groups, which have been pleading for such U.S. support for more than a year. According to The New York Times, the strategy was developed by former CIA Director David Petraeus and supported by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As we have frequently argued, the rationale for such action is compelling. Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 60,000 people, grows steadily worse and more dangerous for the United States and its allies.
An opposition that once was a peaceful pro-democracy movement has been all but overtaken by jihadist organizations, including an al-Qaida affiliate, that receive ample funding and weapons supplies from abroad.
Obama’s reasons for quashing the Syria plan were surely not purely political.
But the president’s only public explanation for his resistance, in a recent interview with the New Republic, amounted to excuse-making. He asked whether providing weapons to rebels would “trigger even worse violence,” ignoring the testimony of his own aides that, under his present policy, the carnage “every day … it gets worse,” as new Secretary of State John Kerry put it.
Kerry and some other administration officials continue to talk up far-fetched hopes that the Syrian war will be ended by a negotiated settlement in which Syrian President Bashar Assad voluntarily steps down, but as long as the United States and its allies refuse to directly supply rebel forces with money, training and more powerful weapons, that is very unlikely to happen.