After foolishly setting a red line with regard to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons, President Obama has now decided to provide weapons and ammunition to rebel forces, according to two US officials. Obama has been urged to do so by politicians including Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). McCain and Graham are urging a no-fly zone over Syria, but President Obama has refused to put troops on the ground and has not yet decided on a no-fly zone.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said President Obama had decided on direct US military support, but refused to say what exactly the United States would provide. “This is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing,” Rhodes explained. Over the last two years, 93,000 people have been killed in Syria, but that wasn’t the trigger for action – 150 people killed in apparent sarin attacks was the trigger.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has expressed cautious support of Obama’s action, with his spokesman Brendan Buck stating, “It is long past time to bring the Assad regime’s bloodshed in Syria to an end. As President Obama examines his options, it is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before taking any action.”
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was more forthcoming in a speech on Thursday to the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference in Washington, DC. Paul said, “The Senate is attempting to arm the rebel forces in Syria, many of whom are al Qaeda or affiliates. They do so out of a misguided attempt to stop the violence in Syria. Instead their actions will bring more violence and more persecution of Christians, who have long been protected in Syria.”
Paul is correct that Syrian rebels have been linked with al Qaeda. In April, Syrian Jabhat al Nusra Front chief Abou Mohamed al-Joulani pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahri. As Peter Bergen wrote at CNN.com, “al-Nusra 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.”
The Syrian regime, meanwhile, is allied with the Iranian mullahs. Instability in Syria has threatened the Syrian borders with Israel and Turkey as well.
It is difficult to ascertain the United States’ strategic interests in Syria. Should the rebels win, America may face yet another Islamic state, following in the footsteps of Tunisia, Egypt, and the transitioning-to-Islamism Turkey. Should Assad win, America will have a black mark on its resume, and Iran will have won a massive propaganda victory.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).