The Obama administration’s “lead from behind” foreign policy is having the same impact in Syria this year as in Libya last year: It is providing an opening for France to usurp the traditional American role as the leading outside power in the Middle East. While the bodies pile up in Syria, President Obama limits his support to the Syrian opposition to the rhetorical realm–backed up by the dispatch of a couple dozen computers.
Meanwhile French President Francois Hollande calls for the Syrian opposition to form a government as soon as possible and vows to recognize it as soon as it is created. He also speaks of creating buffer zones in Syrian territory and enforcing at least a partial no-fly zone–something that the Free Syrian Army has now called for. All of this is desperately needed to stop Bashar Assad’s ruthless killing machine, which is being aided by a substantial contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Every day seems to bring fresh, horrific revelations of atrocities in Syria, which Amnesty International says amount to crimes against humanity. The latest news concerns the Sunni village of Al Heffa in the northwest, where UN monitors found ”fiery devastation, the smell of death, vacated homes, looted stores and vestiges of heavy weapons.”
The Obama administration remains committed, it appears, to staying on the sidelines of this growing crisis, but it is finding it hard to ignore entirely the cause of the rebels. Thus, the Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives have increased contacts with the opposition. But rather than provide arms directly to the Free Syrian Army, the U.S. representatives are content to let Gulf states do the dirty work. As the Journal notes, the “U.S. in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”
It’s good to hear the Obama administration may be searching for a Plan B on Syria. One is certainly needed—and urgently. Plan A was the UN-brokered cease fire which, as no less an authority than UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon notes, is not being implemented by the Assad regime. Indeed, there are numerous reports of regime assaults continuing on opposition bastions while the rebels have little equipment with which to defend themselves.
Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman just got back from Turkey where they meet with Syrian rebel leaders. “The most stunning, unsettling conclusion I drew from the leaders of the Free Syrian Army was that they have essentially got no help from anyone. They are literally running out of ammunition while Assad’s forces are being resupplied by Iran and Russia,” Lieberman told a reporter afterwards.
The Washington Post reports:
Syrian rebels battling the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad are running out of ammunition as black market supplies dry up, neighboring countries tighten their borders and international promises of help fail to materialize, according to rebel commanders and defected soldiers who have crossed into this Turkish border town in recent days in a quest for money to buy arms.
They describe what appear to be desperate conditions for the already lightly armed and loosely organized rebel force, made up of defected soldiers and civilians who in recent months have banded together in the name of the Free Syrian Army, transforming what had been an overwhelmingly peaceful uprising into an armed revolt.