After a great deal of confusion concerning the chemical weapons “red line,” whether Syria has crossed it, and whether Barack Obama was serious when he drew it, we learned on Thursday evening that America will be entering the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels. According to Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, we will be providing them with as-yet unspecified “military support.” From CBS News:
“The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States,” said Rhodes in a separate written statement.
“The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” he continued.
In terms of further response, Rhodes said, “we will make decisions on our own timeline” and that Congress and the international community would be consulted. Mr. Obama is heading to Northern Ireland Sunday for a meeting of the G8 group of nations; Rhodes indicated the president will consult with leaders of those countries.
“Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity,” Rhodes said.
A fine list of priorities, which grows more improbable with each item. The “negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability adn administer state institutions” would mean Syrian dictator Bashar Assad throwing in the towel and slinking off with a few billion dollars in his pocket, which is possible, although these things are more likely to end with the former dictator getting “negotiated” into a noose.
Good riddance to bad rubbish, but unfortunately what replaces him probably won’t be much interested in “protecting the rights of all Syrians,” handing over its weapons, or cracking down on terrorism. Here’s what our new military clients have been up to this week, as reported by USA Today:
A Syrian rebel group’s pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda’s replacement for Osama bin Laden suggests that the terrorist group’s influence is not waning and that it may take a greater role in the Western-backed fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The pledge of allegiance by Syrian Jabhat al Nusra Front chief Abou Mohamad al-Joulani to al-Qaeda leader Sheik Ayman al-Zawahri was coupled with an announcement by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, that it would work with al Nusra as well.
Lebanese Sheik Omar Bakri, a Salafist who says states must be governed by Muslim religious law, says al-Qaeda has assisted al Nusra for some time.
“They provided them early on with technical, military and financial support , especially when it came to setting up networks of foreign jihadis who were brought into Syria,” Bakri says. “There will certainly be greater coordination between the two groups.”
As CNN notes, Jabhat al-Nusra (“The Victory Front”) is “widely regarded as the most effective fighting force in Syria, and its thousands of fighters are the most disciplined of the forces opposing Assad.” That might be due to the large number of Iraqi jihadists who have been joining its ranks. Something tells me those guys didn’t cross the border to fight for a new authority that would protect the rights of all Syrians and do away with terrorism. Al-Nusra also follows the Hezbollah playbook and win the loyalty of the populace by distributing food and other services, which would seem to give them a substantial lead in the “winning hearts and minds” department.
Earlier this week, a teenage boy working at a cafe refused to bring one of the customers more coffee, quipping “Even if Mohammed comes back to life, I won’t.” (Bizarrely, the Washington Post’s account of the incident inserts the word [Prophet] in front of Mohammed’s name, as if readers wouldn’t understand who the lad was talking about. Why not throw in [PBUH] after his name, too?) The boy’s comment was overheard by a passing group of rebel fighters, who grabbed him, whipped him, gathered a crowd – including his parents – to hear him accused of blasphemy, and then made an example of him by putting bullets in his mouth and neck. Just think what these guys will be able to do with American weapons!
Supposedly we’ll be providing military support to only the nice rebels. How we’re going to do that without putting boots on the ground is anyone’s guess.
Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have long advocated a U.S. military role in the Syrian revolt, were pleased with President Obama’s announcement. “We appreciate the President’s finding that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on several occasions,” they said in a statement. “We also agree with the President that this fact must affect U.S. policy toward Syria. The President’s red line has been crossed. U.S. credibility is on the line. Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. Now is the time for more decisive actions.”
“A decision to provide lethal assistance, especially ammunition and heavy weapons, to opposition forces in Syria is long overdue, and we hope the President will take this urgently needed step,” the Senators added, although White House adviser Rhodes talked more along the lines of communications and transportation equipment, saying no decision had yet been reached about establishing a no-fly zone. Not by the White House, anyway. The Russians have made a decision about a no-fly zone, and they evidently don’t like the idea one bit, because they’ve been shipping advanced anti-aircraft missiles to their good friend Bashar Assad.
Update: I’ve seen much speculation about how this announcement ties into Bill Clinton essentially taunting Obama as a “wuss” for staying out of Syria during an appearance with John McCain. Did Clinton’s remarks push Obama over the edge, given the former President’s great influence over Democrats? Or was Clinton dispatched to that appearance by Obama to give him cover for an intervention he already wanted to make? (If the latter is true, it would seem weird that Clinton’s remarks as delivered seemed so belittling toward the current President… but then again, there is bad blood between Clinton and Obama, and Bill Clinton has a long history of working little improvised jabs into statements he makes in support of Obama.)
Update: Bloomberg News confirms suspicions that we’re going to send a lot more than communications and transportation infrastructure to the rebels: “President Barack Obama is authorizing lethal military aid to rebel groups under a classified order instructing the Central Intelligence Agency to arrange delivery of the weapons, according to a U.S. official familiar with the decision who asked not to be identified discussing the move.”