Posted on March 9, 2013



The Obama administration’s emerging support for rebels in Syria is a welcome move, although it comes to late to help an estimated 70,000 people who have died over two years as President Bashar Assad wages a desperate fight to maintain his dictatorial grip on that country.

The administration’s hesitant approach to the Syrian conflict has been based in large part on fear of the unknown. Iran and Russia have supported Assad, and we did not want to escalate the war. Also, we feared that arms sent to the rebels would wind up in the hands of anti-American Islamist terrorists.

Countries in the region with the greatest self-interest in getting rid of the corrupt Assad regime include Saudi Arabia who was unwilling to act. The hope was that the U.S. would take care of the problem for them.

That did not suit President Obama’s policy, which favors acting in tandem with regional allies rather than taking action unilaterally. Nor did greater involvement in a Middle East war fit the mood of an American public weary of overseas military commitments.

But those arguments can no longer be sustained in view of the Syrian regime’s increasingly brutal and cowardly tactics, such as the deliberate targeting of hospitals and medical professionals, and Assad’s near-certain defeat.

Even the cautious Saudis have finally been moved to act, reportedly financing a large weapons shipment to nationalist and secular factions with the rebel movement in an effort to stop the slaughter of civilians.

The fear that Islamist factions will win the upper hand in a post-Assad regime remains real, but the Obama administration can’t afford to wait any longer. The U.S. is compelled to act for humanitarian reasons and because the absence of American assistance to secular groups openly weakens pro-Western forces as the noose begins to tighten on Assad.

Secretary of State John Kerry said “the opposition needs more help.” We need to speak clearly about U.S. willingness to provide direct assistance, including military aid, to the Syrian insurgents. At this stage, it would be inexcusable to refuse to act to put an end to the mounting death toll and the suffering of the Syrian people.

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