John Kerry. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite.)
Traveling in Europe on his first trip as secretary of state, John Kerry has had his first close encounter with the Syrian opposition. It doesn’t bode well.
Last year, we know now, President Obama rejected near-unanimous advice from the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department—including from Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—to begin arming Syria’s rebels. In so doing, Obama stood firm against another potentially disastrous American adventure abroad. Still, it now appears that the United States is edging closer to the precipice again.
According to The New York Times, with Kerry’s support the United States is getting ready to provide “nonlethal” aid to the Syrian fighters, under a very expansive definition of nonlethal that includes “items like vehicles, communications equipment and night vision gear.” Once again, the White House is reported to be resisting the provision of weapons, including Stinger missiles, that the anti-Assad forces want. But, of course, it’s a slippery slope. Already, a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, and aided by Jordan, which is funneling weapons through its territory, is backing the rebels, and Israel is a de facto member of the Sunni bloc, having bombed pro-Assad targets inside Syria. Typical of their kind, many Republicans have been pushing Obama to send in lethal aid, the latest being Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s introduced legislation alongside Representative Elliot Engel, a leading voice of the Israel Lobby in Congress, to arm the rebels. (Leave aside the fact that Congress, having no executive authority, can’t actually arm anyone.)
But the drumbeat is intensifying, and I don’t believe that Obama can resist it for long. Apparently having learned nothing from failed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Washington Post editorialized once again that the United States ought to send arms, and fast:
If the Obama administration is to lead on Syria, it must commit itself to steps that can bring about the early collapse of the regime and its replacement by a representative and responsible alternative. Only direct political and military intervention on the side of the opposition can make that happen.