RUBIN: John Kerry's 'big' Syria offer is woefully lacking
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:27 p.m.
Biscuits and Band-
Those two words sum up the farcical
In what was ballyhooed as a major breakthrough, the United States will, for the first time, provide aid to the armed Syrian opposition. So what are we giving to help Syrian rebels confront the missiles and bombs that have killed tens of thousands of civilians? Not desperately needed antitank or antiaircraft weapons, but medical aid and MREs, those ready-to-eat-meals used as field rations for American soldiers.
Biscuits and Band-Aids to combat Bashar al-Assad's Scuds.
The Rome meeting was supposed to be a high point of Kerry's first overseas tour, aimed at enhancing the credibility of moderate Syrian opposition leaders. Instead it had the opposite effect, undercutting their credibility and raising the question of whether Washington really wants Assad gone.
The administration is rightly worried that al-Qaida-linked groups are taking the lead in the battle against the Syrian president, but apparently not worried enough to stop them. Radical Islamists raise funds from the Arab Gulf, which enables them to attract recruits and distribute charity to desperate civilians. Moderate groups led by defecting Syrian officers or civilians are short of bullets. This raises the specter of a dominant Islamist presence on the ground if Assad falls.
Meantime, neither moderates nor Islamists have the heavy weapons needed to counter the regime's planes and missiles; this has led to a military stalemate. The longer this fight goes on, the more likely Syria will become a failed state and a mecca for jihadis in the heart of the Middle East.
That's why former administration officials Hillary Rodham Clinton, Leon Panetta and David Petraeus, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, supported a plan to arm and train certain Syrian rebels who had been CIA-vetted. President Obama declined.
The administration says it wants to facilitate a negotiated solution. Kerry says his goal is to change Assad
As the war drags on, large tribal areas of Syria are coming under the control of radical elements. According to Shaikh,
There is only one way to shift that thinking: Convince the regime and its backers that Assad could lose. To do that, the United States and its allies would have to shift the Syrian military balance
The risk of heavy weapons going astray could be minimized; a new Syrian Free Army command was organized in December that could be used as a control.
Instead, Kerry's announcement in Rome has undercut the SOC and the rebel military command structure by leaving Assad free to bomb. Syrian sources close to the Free Syrian Army say Kerry's offer has spurred a huge wave of anger, along with a stream of bitter jokes.
There's a slim chance that Kerry's pledge is only a first step. Britain and France have promised to send night-vision goggles and body armor
Yet much more is required to break the military stalemate. Washington, or its allies, would have to boost the capacity of the Free Syrian Army with training and heavy weapons. Obama would have to play hardball with the Russians, insisting that, if they don't push harder, we'd help the opposition win.
There's no sign that Obama is heading in that direction.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.