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HomeEthiopian NewsIn Syria, the U.S. Makes a Move

In Syria, the U.S. Makes a Move

Picture: Pablo Tosco/AFP/Getty.

Posted by Jon Lee Anderson

 (The New Yorker)And so now it begins. Ushered through the door by the new U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, direct U.S. assistance to the armed Syrian rebels has been authorized. It comes in the form of a tranche of sixty million dollars in aid, initially said to be “non-lethal aid.” Supposedly, that translates as food and medicine.

Kerry made the announcement this week in Rome, at a meeting of Friends of Syria, a group of eleven nations. The leaders of the acknowledged Syrian opposition were there, too, and they decried the offer as too paltry, but they are probably wrong to be upset. The odds are good that the declared U.S. assistance is just that—the declared assistance. New weapons of Croatian origin have been flowing to the rebels since December via the Saudis, and have helped them here and there on the battlefield.

It has been difficult to account for covert activities or triangulated logistical operations. The British, too, have announced their willingness to enhance their support for the rebels; William Hague’s offer of aid from Britain, which would require the lifting of E.U. restrictions, is for non-lethal “combat gear,” like night-vision goggles and flak jackets.

Underneath all the opacity and the declarations and the leaks, it seems evident that the Obama Administration has decided to remain cautious but to provide backing for Syria’s rebels, who are fighting an increasingly violent war to unseat the entrenched military regime of Bashar al-Assad. It is now a twenty-three-month-old conflict with over seventy thousand people dead and counting. Sometime this week, a million Syrians will have fled their country to neighboring ones as refugees. In Jordan, there were about three thousand refugees this time last year; there are now nearly half a million, and more are arriving every day. For the U.N. and other humanitarian agencies, Syria’s war is now the most urgent refugee crisis in the world, with no end in sight.

With Assad’s regime entrenched; fighting taking place daily in most of Syria’s cities; Iran providing an apparently endless supply of war materiel to Assad; the Russians, determined to act as power brokers, stubbornly covering the regime’s back diplomatically; and, additionally, given Syria’s extraordinarily strategic position in the Middle East, it was inevitable that White House would sooner or later have to come up with a policy to replace its wait-and-see handwringing.

Is it wise, or right, to arm Syria’s rebels? Is it even a U.S. responsibility to do so? History will provide the final verdict, but there is probably not a wholly right or wrong response at this point. Syria’s diverse armed opposition is too engaged in war with the Syrian regime to be truly assessed, monitored, and somehow “made safe” in exchange for U.S. support, and that seems unlikely to change soon.

This is a hydra-headed war, a bit like a high-stakes poker game, and the best Washington can likely do is take a deep breath and sit down at the table to try its hand, hoping to make some profit by doing so and not lose the family farm in the process.

Given the U.S. role in the world, there is no real option but to play, because out of Syria’s mess will come some kind of new reckoning between the world’s powers where everyone’s leverage lies in the new Middle East. The Russians have staked their bets, and, in their own way, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Turks, and the Saudis have, too. So has everyone else in the neighborhood, even the small fry. The result is a bloody stalemate. For better or worse, everyone is looking to the Americans to tip the balance, because that is the role that a superpower, still in the game, is expected to play. This is not about what’s right so much as it is about the game. If the Americans want the outcome to favor them and their allies they must try to help mold it. Direct aid may have its risks, but no move at all means losing, too.
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