Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and top adviser in the Obama administration for two years, had a piece in the Financial Times today calling for the United States to arm the Syrian rebels. She acknowledges the concerns preventing the U.S. from doing so:
[The] risks are plentiful. First, becoming enmeshed in Syria could hurt Mr Obama’s re-election chances. Second, sending arms without UN approval would put the US on the wrong side of international law. Third, the US could become tied to the opposition’s fortunes in ways that could inhibit the “rebalancing” toward Asia. Fourth, providing weapons to the FSA risks fuelling the conflict and possibly arming al-Qaeda fighters who are infiltrating Syria. Fifth, providing weapons to the FSA when Iran and Russia are arming the Syrian regime will drag the US into a proxy great power war.
But worry not, she proposes a solution:
It is time for bold action, of the kind Mr Obama took in deciding to go after Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and to intervene in Libya. In Syria this would mean putting together a coalition of countries that would commit to providing heavy weapons (and possibly air cover) to all commanders on the ground who sign the “Declaration of Values” supporting a democratic and pluralist Syria put forward by the nine commanding generals of the military council of the FSA. To receive weapons, these commanders must show they control safe zones and admit foreign journalists, civil society activists and the UN to monitor the implementing of the declaration’s principles. They must also allow citizen journalists to upload photographs of what they witness to an official website maintained by the coalition.
That should be easy enough, right? And once we get that stuff done, there won’t be much reason to object to arming the rebels. But even optimistically, this is obviously not the case; even if such a plan were basically successful, the strategic wisdom and domestic politics of openly arming Syria’s rebels would remain seriously fraught. This much is clear to the Obama administration, which has nonetheless attempted to do something by secretly increasing intelligence support for the rebels, as was leaked to Reuters this evening.
It should be noted that our Middle East allies are quite capable of supplying the heavy arms the rebels need, and the rebels have apparently been effective improvisers in the meantime (they’ve begun to commandeer even tanks on their own, the U.N. Syria mission reported today), but progress in getting the real toys to the opposition has been slow.