Why should U.S. arm the Syrian opposition?
Extreme caution when dealing with real imminent danger may not be the best of options
In his book "Duty," former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates narrates the controversy that preceded Israel's shelling of a nuclear reactor after the 2007 discovery that the Syrian regime had been secretly building it in cooperation with Iran and North Korea.
Gates writes that there was disagreement among American administration officials on how to deal with this dangerous development. Gates' opinion was to resort to a diplomatic solution and pressure Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to have him halt the project and get rid of his nuclear program.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others disagreed with Gates as they thought there must be a military solution by destroying the reactor.
The moral of this story is that extreme caution when dealing with real imminent danger may not be the best of options. If Bush had listened to Gates' suggestion and prevented the destruction of Assad's reactor, the Syrians would be in a bigger dilemma today and the entire region would be hostage to the Syrian regime.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Ehud Olmret, the Israeli prime minister at the time, warned them that he would not sit idly by. Gates says that he favored a diplomatic solution because he feared Arab backlash, a worsening of the Iraq war and the potential of war to be sparked between Syria and Israel.
He also suggested that then President George Bush warned Israel against shelling the Syrian reactor! To make the long story short, the Israelis shelled the nuclear reactor and Assad didn't do anything. All Assad did was transfer the building's rubble at night and hide it.
No place for caution in Syria
The moral of this story is that extreme caution when dealing with real imminent danger may not be the best of options. If Bush had listened to Gates' suggestion and prevented the destruction of Assad's reactor, the Syrians would be in a bigger dilemma today and the entire region would be hostage to the Syrian regime.
The long history of caution and leniency with Iran has eventually led the U.S. to bow before Khamenei's regime by presenting it with gifts and making concessions just to convince it to negotiate.
The turtle-pace diplomacy with Iran and Syria has made things reach this complicated and dangerous phase. The dangerous negligence regarding al-Qaeda's expansion in numbers, recruitment and armament in Syria has increased threats in the region and perhaps in the world as well.
Al-Qaeda has currently become ten times stronger than it was previously. Mostly because it has adopted diplomatic actions such as sending flour, medicine, night light projectors and other toys to the Free Syrian Army.
As a matter of fact, this is the biggest mistake the American government committed since the September 11, 2001 twin attacks.
Engagement through supporting opposition
In order to fight al-Qaeda in Syria, there is one practical solution that makes as much sense as direct engagement. American should strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition and build an international alliance that supports the Syrians against the Assad regime and al-Qaeda forces.
The Americans, or others, are not requested to send troops. It's enough to support the Syrians on ground and enable them to fight the regime and al-Qaeda together so the regime feels it's losing the war. It's in this case that the regime will negotiate its exit.
Slow progress has allowed an al-Qaeda tumor to grow and the final result will be worse than all what we've seen so far. Syria continues to drown in war, massacres have increased, and countries neighboring Syria continue to suffer due to millions of refugees crossing their borders. The Syrians have paid the price of reluctance and the world will later pay the price too.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 8, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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