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Kerry’s Incoherence on Syria

Perhaps U.S. policy toward Syria could be more incoherent and ineffectual, but it’s hard to see how. Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry made what it is in essence the pro-intervention case. He said:

The longer the bloodshed goes on, the greater the prospect that the institutions of the state of Syria implode.  And therefore the greater the danger is to the region and the world that chemical weapons fall into the hands of really bad actors. We do not want that to happen…. 

Right now, President Assad is receiving help from the Iranians, he is receiving help from al-Qaeda-related – some elements, he’s receiving help from Hizbollah, and obviously some help is coming in through the Russians. If he believes he can shoot it out, Syrians and the region have a problem, and the world has a problem.

That’s precisely what those of us who have been in favor of arming the moderate factions of the Syrian rebels—and perhaps supporting them with Western airpower—have been arguing for the past two years. Yet what conclusion does Kerry draw from his premise?

This the punchline: “President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not stand in the way of other countries that made a decision to provide arms, whether it is France or Britain or others.”

Huh? 

The administration position seems to be that we need to alter Assad’s calculations by arming the opposition—but we won’t provide the arms ourselves. Instead we will applaud our allies for arming the rebels. 

This is almost a caricature of “lead from behind” foreign policy. What is the point of letting our allies do the heavy lifting? It’s not even the case that they will risk their soldiers’ lives and we won’t—funneling arms doesn’t require any foreign military personnel to be on Syrian soil. Nor are we saving money since the funds we are currently providing for nonlethal assistance could just as easily be redirected to pay for what the rebels most desperately need–weapons.

I just can’t understand the administration thinking at all, unless the current policy is simply a split-the-difference approach between those in the administration who want to arm the rebels and those who don’t. If so, this demonstrates again the danger of policymaking by committee and highlights the continuing indecision on the president’s part which has allowed the Syrian crisis to get worse and worse.


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