The White House announced last week that the U.S. would soon be directly (and finally, overtly) arming the Syrian opposition, the first step down a road of further U.S. military involvement, challenging fiscal requirements, and other third order repercussions in the Middle East.

There are infinite variables to analyze in the context of Syria’s bloody two plus-year civil war; the ones we should be most concerned with are in regards to U.S. foreign policy and interests. The purpose of this article is to highlight the major variables and issues being discussed in news media and to open them for critical discussion.

A Dog in the Fight?

At the macro level, the most important questions to answer in the context of Syria are fairly obvious, yet they need to be asked: what U.S. interests are at stake and what will the extent of U.S. involvement entail? As revealed by White House staff, President Obama has identified enough U.S. interest to warrant directly supplying Syrian rebels (unidentifiable factions of which have been directly compromised by AQI’s cover organization al-Nusrah Front) with some level of weaponry to counter the Assad regime.

Citing international norms and “clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades,” the White House deputy national security adviser’s statement shares the rationale behind President Obama’s decision in the wake of multiple alleged chemical weapons attacks by the regime.

Facing the Issues in Syria
Image Courtesy: Mac Design Studio

Paraphrasing the White House release, the U.S. Intelligence Community has “high confidence in [the intelligence community’s] assessment [regarding use of chemical weapons] given multiple, independent streams of information.” This, at least, is somewhat heartening. However, let’s play devil’s advocate. Does Curveball (Iraq) ring a bell?

The specific scope and scale of U.S. support aside, U.S. decision-makers have a lot to consider before engaging directly in the Syria conflict – there are U.S. dollars, resources, logistics, action arms, and ultimately U.S. lives – that will be expended should the White House order it. We need to ensure that arming the rebels over the next few months outweighs the benefits of remaining a neutral* bystander as the conflict works itself out. (*Remain neutral in the context of providing only the minimal sufficient support required to satisfy our allies in the region should they request it, i.e. Israel, Jordan, Turkey, etc.)

21st Century Weapons – Smart Decisions Required

As the U.S. announces its intentions for Syria and determines its scope of involvement, the issue of weapons must be discerned. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is, “opposed to providing sophisticated weapons, such as portable anti-aircraft missiles, because of the possibility that those arms could be turned against the U.S. or its allies in the future,” which is at least somewhat comforting. It would appear the U.S. decision-making apparatus has at least retained some recollection of previous U.S. decisions to arm parties in a conflict, citing the lessons learned regarding U.S. support of the mujahadeen in the USSR invasion of Afghanistan during the Cold War.

However – considering that the U.S. has made disadvantageous decisions to arm various groups in the past, and considering that the group that it has elected to support is or was pervasively associated with (it’s difficult to separate the good from the bad; think COIN ops in Afghanistan) the enemy the U.S. has spent years and billions of dollars fighting, the immediate outlook of the White House’s latest decision is not exactly enlightening.