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Whatisagoodrebelandabadrebel? ChoosingsideswithinsidesinSyria
Vol.19 June19,2013

I have come to realize that there is a great difference between on the one hand making two individuals fight to avoid a general battle and so finish a war, and on the other of making them fight to end a duel.
The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu (September 1585 December 1642)

Whatever you might think of the Assad regime, what is evident that he is fully aware of the fact that his opponents, both at home and abroad are divided on the Syrian situation and what to do about it. Both China and Russia label the Syrian conflict as an internal situation which does not need an outside intervention and must be solved internally. Domestically, the rebels have their own agendas and their own vision of Syria of the future. All rhetoric aside, all major global players have chosen sides in the Syrian conflict and intervention is already underway. At this juncture, the two crucial questions must be answered in light of President Obamas recent decision to arm the anti-Assad forces: What now? and How does this end? I am of the view that just arming the rebels will not end the US involvement in Syria. Is the President trying to appease the war hawks but without doing any more than the minimum? The administration keeps saying that there are no plans to send major weapons systems inside Syria or to establish a no-flight zone over Syria. But what if that is exactly is needed in the future to contain the conflict in Syria? The presidents mistake is to assume that he wont have to do more than what he has already done and that he can resist advocates of a deeper intervention at home and events within Syria. Sadly, he is now hostage to both. Another dimension of arming the rebels strategy is how will this arms transfer have the desired effect when Iran and Russia have been delivering Assad armaments that are much more lethal, and in large quantities? One is left to conclude either

Obamas decision amounts to a symbolic move, or it is a prelude to larger arms deliveries by the United States, something that would require the presence of American intelligence operatives and trainers on the ground. Its not hard to understand why the president wouldnt want say that the latter is in fact the case: Americans have no appetite to get involved in another Middle East adventure. Besides, it will take time for the battlefield arithmetic to be changed even if there are major arms deliveries to the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, Assad will surely scale up his offensive, which would result in more casualties. But would that force Obama to order military strikes against Syrian military units and command and control posts so as to restrain Assad? If not, how long will it take before the resistance can be more effective against the regime, and what of the increased tempo of killing that would occur in the interim? Would the president find it morally acceptable and politically possible to wait while the resistance stages a comeback? At home, Obama is coming under pressure by hawkswithin his administration, in the Congress, in think tanks and in the mediato stay Assads hand by ramping up Americas military role. If he heeds the advice of the interventionists and orders air strikes, it stands to reason that he would have to destroy Assads air defenses and to then institute a no-flight zone that prevents Assad from hitting insurgent redoubts and moving his forces around. You can sense another armed Middle East adventure on its way by the US under a Nobel Peace Prize winner President. Then theres the external dimension. The region is already in turmoil and the chaos in Syria is a perfect opportunity for the regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia to face-off through choosing sides and supporting their groups. That makes the half-hearted, half-baked US intervention more like a symbolic move than the full assault on the Assad regime- which the US might have to do in the future anyway. The how does this end? part is also challenging . The administration says that the balance on the battlefield has to be changed if the resistance is to enter peace talks holding any kind of credible hand. Fair enough. But thats not going to happen soon unless the United States delivers more than small arms and bulletsand does so rapidly and in large quantities. And even if Assads position deteriorates as a result, he would presumably wait to regain lost ground before going to the bargaining table. In other words, has the Obama administration have an idea as to what will

constitute an end for the Syrian conflict? In a region which is going through its own soul searching in a violent way, no one can predict how the events will unfold either in Syria or anywhere else in the region. In that context, what the future holds may not be Assads victory or the oppositions triumph. Syria could metamorphose into what Lebanon was between 1975 and 1990an anarchy in which ethnic and religious militias battled for primacy, with surrounding states intervening in support of their clients. That denouement will require that the administration decide what role it envisages for the United States in the chaos, what the objectives are, and how it will go about achieving them. It could be said without a doubt that the serious and mature foreign policy must always be based on the strategic assessments of its goals and objectives and how to achieve those goals and objectives. Anything else is everything but the serious and mature foreign policy.