U.S. Steps Up Aid, but Syria’s Rebels Want Arms

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Riccardo De Luca / AP

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives a statement during a press conference with Syrian opposition coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib following an international conference on Syria at Villa Madama, Rome, on Feb. 28, 2013

It should come as no surprise that Syria’s rebels were underwhelmed by Thursday’s U.S. pledge of $60 million in direct aid: although the announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome marked Washington’s first direct assistance to the Western-backed opposition coalition and reportedly may be accompanied by nonlethal equipment such as body armor and night-vision gear for rebel forces, the pledges fell short of the rebels’ principal demand: weapons.

“Nothing has changed,” the Wall Street Journal was told on Thursday by Mohammad Sarmini of the Syrian National Council, the largest bloc in the Western-backed opposition coalition. “The U.S. position of no arming [the rebels] is crystal clear.” While Sarmini’s group had boycotted the Rome meeting at which Kerry spoke in protest at the limited support on offer to the rebels, the Secretary of State had managed to persuade coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib to reverse his own plan to stay away. Still, even al-Khatib, during a media appearance with Kerry, reportedly complained of “an international decision to prevent arming Syrian rebels with quality arms.”

(MORE: Portrait of a Lady: A Female Syrian Rebel Speaks to TIME)

The U.S. has declined to supply the rebels with the heavier weaponry that could help neutralize the regime’s advantages in air power, armor and artillery, and is widely reported to have also restrained many of its allies from doing so. Still, Saudi Arabia has reportedly recently managed to supply some rebel forces with antitank and antiaircraft missiles, and has openly agitated for the West to do the same. But the Administration sees arming the rebels — a plethora of small armed groups, some of the most effective among them being jihadists, and lacking a single overarching chain of command or political leadership — as a risky bet.

Thus Thursday’s more cautious commitment of assistance to the opposition effort, which Kerry and other Western officials stressed is aimed at forcing the regime to accept a political settlement that would include the ouster of President Bashar Assad. And the U.S. continues to press the opposition coalition to do more to demonstrate to millions of uncommitted Syrians that it represents a credible alternative to the Assad regime and can ensure their safety and well-being.

The Rome meeting of the group of Arab and Western allies of the opposition called, in its final communiqué, for the regime to accept conditions for a political solution, “including the issue of President Assad’s stepping aside, stopping massacres and freeing prisoners kept in appalling number and conditions.”

The gathered Foreign Ministers also “stressed that the window of opportunity for negotiations cannot be used by the regime to buy time,” calling for renewed efforts to operationalize the peace proposals of U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and for further discussion on ways to step up support for the opposition.

(MORE: Syria’s Opposition Wins Western Backing, but What About Western Weapons?)

“None of this changes the equation,” says University of Oklahoma Syria expert Professor Joshua Landis. “The real question is what comes next, and whether or not this opens the way to greater intervention.” That view is echoed by a Damascus-based analyst who maintains contact with Syrian regime officials and requested anonymity for that reason. “Everyone is waiting to see whether the U.S. changes its stance on Syria and takes a lead,” says the analyst, “but at least until recently, President Obama has made clear he is not prepared to risk being sucked into another Mideast conflict.”

Some see the Obama Administration’s latest moves, limits notwithstanding, as breaking a taboo on direct assistance to the rebels — and thereby potentially leading to more robust support. Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an advocate of stronger intervention, sees the assistance announced on Thursday portending greater involvement in the effort to oust Assad precisely because there’s so little prospect of a political settlement.

“[Administration officials] are still reluctant, so they’re moving incrementally,” Tabler told the New York Times. “But the Obama Administration has to look at one reality: what they have done [thus far] isn’t working.”

While Landis agrees that those fighting for the regime are unlikely to accept a political solution that effectively requires its collapse, he believes the Administration remains leery of being drawn directly into a very messy and protracted conflict with potentially cataclysmic regional consequences. “Syria is mission creep waiting to happen,” he warns. “There’s no way to avoid it, given the scale of the problem emerging on the ground in Syria as the state comes apart. In fact, the most convincing argument for more direct intervention has been that as perilous as intervention appears to be today, we will only face an even more dangerous situation if we don’t get involved.”

(MORE: On Patrol in Syria with Assad’s Most Diligent Enemies)

The problem is that the conflict is not simply over who occupies the seat of power, but has morphed into a more deep-rooted civil conflict that threatens Syria’s survival as a nation-state. “It’s now clear that Syria is not undergoing a violent transition from one regime to another,” noted NATO researcher Jean-Loup Samaan earlier this week. “In fact, the country is enduring a process of disintegration of its state structures. Planners for a post-Assad Syria are no longer eyeing the potential successors of Assad but [are looking] at the bewildering landscape of nonstate actors that fight each other over the conquest of what will be eventually left of the Syrian state.”

It’s precisely their shared desire to avoid having to contend with the fallout from a breakup of the Syrian state that has lately seen Russia and the U.S. signal greater cooperation on seeking a political settlement. But any expectation that diplomacy — or the grinding strategic stalemate after two years of warfare that have left more than 70,000 Syrians dead and millions displaced — will propel the two sides toward negotiations ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, warns the Damascus-based analyst. “Even though we may be witnessing the beginnings of the destruction of Damascus as a city, there is no prospect whatsoever of any movement on the political track — there’s simply nothing to work with for anyone hoping to broker such a solution,” he warns. “If the regime changed course from its current strategy of seeking a military solution to the rebellion and instead countenanced some form of compromise, it would very likely collapse from within. Both the regime’s enemies and its allies know this. Both sides are making noises about a political solution simply to better position themselves in a zero-sum fight.”

Thus the grim consensus among analysts that the bloodletting in Syria is likely to get a lot worse before it gets any better. And also the probability that it will become an increasingly nettlesome challenge for a U.S. Administration that has dedicated itself, as President Obama noted in his inaugural address, to ending “a decade of war.”

PHOTOS: Syria’s Slow-Motion Civil War

51 comments
kosmos
kosmos

Assad is in power because the Syria people want him to be in power, its not hard its not to complicated,its simple. If the syrian people hated Bashar they would have done massive strikes and boycotted the government as they did in Egypt and Yemen. Two years is a lot of time for a dictator without any support to be in power, unless he has a large amount of support.

faranack
faranack

Rich and armed minority group are around the Bashar, and poor majority getting killed easily, anytime they show any kind of actions. Unfortunately, both side have some support, but not enough to make the transition more civilized.  

William
William

While Russia provides backing to Assad as a means to protect their investments in Syria this war is not going to end. Add Iran to the mix and Assad would feel confident of outlasting the rebels who are in the main a rag tag bunch including Islamists from other countries. The US would be concerned that providing the opposition with sophisticated weapons could see them finish up in the hands of Hamas and other Islamist terrorist groups. We have seen this happen before. Libya is an example. 

The Syrian opposition is always looking to the West for assistance. Perhaps it should be asking the Arab League nations for a hand. The reality is that many of the arab regimes are fearful of the same thing happening in their country and behind closed doors don't want to give oxygen to the opposition, particularly the Islamists. 

You can understand why Obama is not keen to get involved.  It is an arab issue and the region must sort it out. Which ever way it goes it won't be pretty.

tps1217
tps1217

Sounds like bo and his crew have no idea but since its taxpayer money just send 60 million and see where it falls. Now that's a plan.

fred.fries6
fred.fries6

What I seem to be hearing here is how Americans sounded just prior to Pearl Harbor......"It's not our fight, let the British handle it"
and of course now a days the world is even smaller yet.

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

The 50 Cent Party are Internet commentators (网络评论员網絡評論員, wǎngluò pínglùn yuán) hired by the government of the People's Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards.[1][2] The commentators are said to be paid fifty cent of RMB for every post that either steers a discussion away from anti-party or sensitive content on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms,[3] or that advances the Communist party line

rorywong654
rorywong654

Wake up and save the world by not buying or have anything to do with US. Tell me where can find a peaceful settlement without end up in arm conflict with US involvement

ToddAlband
ToddAlband

Nobama is an idiot. His entire cabinet counciled him against the course of action he ultimately chose.

larry459714
larry459714

Here let us help you since you seem to not be able to help yourself.

Ok, thanks. 

NOO we want weapons you idiots. Thanks for nothing.

Forget them

JorgeJohnson
JorgeJohnson

The only support we should ever give to allies in hostile lands is technical support. Giving fresh water is more valuable than giving WMD, which invariably are turned against us or our allies.

MichaelPericles
MichaelPericles

the major problem is that the american people are not unified to come together and protest and force these politicians to resign 

JustAnotherComment
JustAnotherComment

the american people need the aide, the govt. should consider helping its people rather intervening with unnecessary positions

YomaMa
YomaMa

So we need to kick in spending cuts to save money here but we have $60M to send to Syria?  Billions to Egypt? And on and on?  

neko.el.gato
neko.el.gato

Time Magazine selling more war?  Who would have thought.

RonSmith
RonSmith

Didn't we JUST do this with Libya and they thanked us by KILLING OUR AMBASSADOR? 

JorgeJohnson
JorgeJohnson

@RonSmith It was just their way of saying, "I'll thank you not to spy on me when you're fixing the pipes."

ThomCurry
ThomCurry

Can we please stay out of this? Let Israel deal with it or something. I'm sick of reaping the whirlwind for getting involved in stuff that has nothing to do with us.

cm7
cm7

@ThomCurry The US would still be paying for that because it contributes to more of Israel's defense that Israeli citizen do. The US is a corpratocracy of old European power. They didn't feel like fighting American's during the American revolution by sending troops over on long sea journey's so they stepped back and came up with another plan to regain America and that is the central banking system that was funded by European wealth. Israel is their dog and they brainwashed many of their leaders very well. The west is who feeds that dog. Basically no difference. Take a look at all the high positions in US defense that have dual Israeli/US citizenship. If large scale war breaks out, I fear that once again the Jewish people will be used as the sacrificial body that will spark the next WW. Be careful when placing this on the Jewish population despite the crooked Israeli leadership because their strings are being pulled as well despite being the closest cousins of the Palestinian people.

ThomCurry
ThomCurry

@cm7 @ThomCurry  Nope. Israel reached big boy status somewhere around 1967. We do contribute quite a bit to Israel, but we give aid to any country willing to "play ball." I don't know what a corpratocracy is, and I'm going to go ahead and accuse you of making that up. At worst, the U.S. is an undeclared autocracy masquerading as a democracy, but it really doesn't have as much to do with corporations as it does "old" money and lawyers. The corporations are just trying to keep it in the black. Anyway, Israel can and will spank Syria if they need too. Then, just like in '67, the U.N. will negotiate a ceasefire, and Israel will again be in a strong negotiating position.

RinaGray
RinaGray

@ThomCurry @cm7Israel rich big boy status in 1947-48, when they kicked Arabs to the curb. Between 1948 ceasefire, there where first  Suez Canal Crisis, when Egypt blocked the Suez Canal from Israel ships. It wad in 1956. They fought Egypt and they opened Suez Canal. In 1967 Egypt did the same and cooperate with Jordan. Syria, Iraq, which cast all of this countries air forces. Israel simply destroyed them.  Israel had gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem,Shebaa farms, and the Golan Heights. After that war, was war of Yom Kipur day, but Israel again won. Israel fought enough wars. We don't need them anymore.If you Americans want to play Gods, be my guest, but don't ask anyone to fight your wars for you. And we didn't understand Arab Muslims mmore, than you in USA.

RinaGray
RinaGray

@cm7 @ThomCurry You are lying. USA contribute just $3B to Israel, and Israel GDP is $248 B per year. And Israel is forced to by USA weapons, when we can create our own weapons, or by it somewhere cheaper. So American input to Israel not that big. Israel not USA puppet, especially not Obama puppet. Why should Israel fight American wars for them. It's USA wanted Mubarak and Assad out. Israel have nothing to do with it. for 30 years with Egypt and 20 years with Assad Israel have very normal relationship with Egypt and Syria. It was not very friendly, but it was very calm. Now we have 2 Muslim countries, one of each ruling by Radical Muslim party Muslim Brotherhood, which by the way can't control radicals in their country, and full blown up Civil war in Syria. Like having dials with Palestine's is not enough for us.

William
William

@RinaGray @cm7 @ThomCurry Pleased to see that someone is on the ball and making sensible comments. Agree, this is a Syrian/arab problem. The US wants to stay clear if it can because what ever the outcome it will be ugly. And let's not play the 'blame the West game'. Its run out of steam. 

RinaGray
RinaGray

@ThomCurry @RinaGray @cm7 Sorry Tom, but Israel have policy. We never attack any country first. So if Syria will attack us, we will fight back, if not, their problems is not our business. Like I said before, if Muslims have big urgies to kill each other, we will not get involved. It's a fight between Syrian citizens.

ThomCurry
ThomCurry

@RinaGray @cm7 @ThomCurry Rina, I'm not suggesting that Israel do anything by proxy for the U.S. I'm simply suggesting that is none of our business, and if there is in fact a "Western" agenda there, the people best suited to deal with it are the Israelis because they live there. Essentially, I think we should get our fingers out of everyone else's business. 

cm7
cm7

UPDATE in light of breaking John Kerry news. He condemns the anti-Zionist remarks by the Turkish PM. Did you watch the video? It's hardly that disparaging. He mentions it once. Here's where you need to do a double take. Turkey is trying to get into the EU, they are now in the pocket of the elites but they want you to think they are traditional Muslims who are resentful to Zionism, so they made this big stink about one little comment that should NOT be considered major world news to keep people from making the connection that Turkey's government is backing up Syrian rebel terrorists Because it most certainly IS and they stand to benefit from this. This would not be important news for any other reason. These overpaid megalomaniacs are some of the worst reverse pseudo-psychologists I have ever seen. All it takes to figure this stuff out is follow world News and research the historical circumstances.  A highschool dropout can see through this ineptness. Drug dealers on the street are craftier than this and these people get top wages, top positions and get to play with the fate of the global public.

Nanging03
Nanging03

"Non-lethal" aid??  As in what?  More tents, dry socks and disposable diapers?  GEE THANKS, JOHN KERRY!!  How about diverting some of those guns going into Mexico in Syria's direction for a change.  Attorney General Eric Holderman might be able to spare some of them for a worthy cause. 

jethromayham6
jethromayham6

Let the Saudi govt arm them but never the U.S. Saudi has plenty of money so they can bear the burden quite easily. Let all to them mussies figure it out because if we step in actively none of them real really and truly appreciate it. 

MichaelPericles
MichaelPericles

What a bunch of idiots we have elected ,this country is in financial hot water because of these morons and now they are giving 60 million dollars away to some other country .

FrankBoydston
FrankBoydston like.author.displayName 1 Like

news flash...we are and have been giving them arms and field logistical support for some time thru turkey and lebanon. this is all kabuki theater to make it seem like we're only involved in humanitarian side...the rebels "want arms!" (wink wink)

phuzioncrue
phuzioncrue like.author.displayName 1 Like

60 Million in aid? What the f**k. I can't believe there is no money for the elderly, schools, medicine, but oh we have money for those people, and they were so overwhelmed, but that wasnt enough, they want guns too. I wonder if the guns they need will have 10 round limitations and not fully automatic. Wow to this government.

rorywong654
rorywong654

Wake up stipud people,last chance to change and save the world by not buying or have anything to do with US

tamsyn.cienne
tamsyn.cienne

Right now the main problem, to me, would be the fact that there is no one rebel or resistance group. There are many which have begun to fight each other. This could mean a situation like that of Afghanistan...where Russia was pushed out by 'rebel groups,' only to have those rebel groups fight and kill each other until the Taliban took control. I agree that the steps Kerry has made are a good compromise. Syria has enough weapons in various hands, so sending defensive machinery and medical aid to those we support in the rebellion is effective and understandable.

elevatorhead1
elevatorhead1

They don't need AID ! WE DO ! STOP SPENDING ! LET THEM TAKE CARE OF THER OWN PROBLEMS ! with a debt of 18 trillion dollars we can not afford to be sending AID to Syria , You irresesponsible idiotic morons !  PAY YOUR BILLS FIRST before sending AID , Lets cut the AID Bullcrap !

duduong
duduong

"Syria’s Rebels Want Arms"?

A few days ago, reporters working for Jane's noticed that the rebels now had a good number of a modern MANPAD (man-portable air-defense) to shoot down government helicopters. The US-supplied stinger missiles had played a major role in helping the mujaheddin defeat the Soviet in Afghanistan. Yet strangely, this time, the MANPAD is a new Chinese model called FN-6. 

This is strange because China is officially neutral in the conflict and actually quite friendly with the Syrian government. A more plausible explanation is that the missiles are purchased on black market by a third party. Could it be the CIA's new BlackBrier program?

cm7
cm7

@duduong Interesting subject, but did you know that Hong Kong... one of China's most populated and important trade areas was administered by the British until 1997? To get Hong Kong back under Chinese administration they worked up an agreement that allows Hong Kong to still have autonomy in judicial aspects as well as commerce. That's not true autonomy because Hong kong is not independent. It is partially governed by China because it is a security liability for mainland China and truly does belong to them, but it is still being economically controlled by western elites. All this started with the East India British trade company who started the Chinese opium wars, fueled the Boxer rebellion and china's civil wars in the 1900s. This is why the Chinese are Socialists and against the smoke screen of democracy and religious crusading. It doesn't surprise me one bit that the west would send rebels weapons made in certain parts of China. Taiwan is a somewhat similar story. Japan is the US pacific puppet.

ciaran
ciaran

@cm7 @duduong 

laundering guns, drugs and money is nothing new for the CIA. You don't need to quote a work of fiction to get your point across. 

Neebones
Neebones like.author.displayName 1 Like

The United States of America,,,,is cutting the budget for our brave military, the dying rescue workers with the Zadroga Bill, and the victims of Hurricane Sandy....but we are handing over 60 Million!!! dollars to Syria! I want to scream!!!!

elevatorhead1
elevatorhead1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Neebones I agree, I never seen such irresponsible bunch of morons as we have in our government in my life, I think there all on anti depressants  or doing some kind of drugs, because anybody in there right mind would pay their bills!

cm7
cm7 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@Neebones Even though our defense budget had been cut, it's still over 600 billion- the largest defense budget of any nation. Number 2 on the list is approximately a fifth of ours. Out of the entire defense budget over 500 billion went straight to the pentagon to these crooks who sit around and think up ways to dominate the world, so no, our military people do not reap the benefits of our defense budget. They are just told lies and made to go into foreign countries and lose their lives. The think tanks use the media to make us feel guilty about not supporting military operations, but the truth is that when we do, we are supporting the death and dismemberment of our own military family members for causes that we are told are noble, but in actuality it is to keep western currencies on top. The west has been trying to dominate Asian trade since the 1800s AT LEAST.

tamsyn.cienne
tamsyn.cienne

@cm7 @Neebones Agreed--America's defense budget is absolutely ridiculous.

jethromayham6
jethromayham6

@tamsyn.cienne @cm7 @Neebones Clear the old inventory for the new. What is wrong with using our fleet of B-52s and drop loads on a 24/7 basis from 50,000 feet. After several days and the dust clears, we can have our satellites check the results. More or less by looking at the facts.

cm7
cm7

By sending Syrian rebels arms, the US is basically proving that not even they believe in democracy. There is a new Syrian constitution drafted in 2012 that limits presidential terms to 7 years with only one re-election. The next election is scheduled for 2014 in May. Democracy is a lie to make you feel you have a choice. Syrian people have watched their loved ones die and are being told that it is solely the government when often times, it is not and they do not have access to the evidence we have that shows that this is just a typical toppling CIA sweep. Wake up people. There chance at choosing a new leader is just over a year away so why are we backing up the bloodshed that was started and propagated by rebel terrorists from outside of Syria? Pay close attention at how your tax dollars are being used and know that this man, John Kerry, said that no nation should live in fear of it's government. That being said, I expect this man to straight away turn in his resignation.

danialrichmond
danialrichmond

How can we afford to offer free money to other countries when we are currently borrowing money to pay our own bills. Talking of tax increased and cuts from our domestic spending. IMF, Foreign Aid, UN and playing the worlds police force should be at the top of the chopping blocks before any America domestic program is touched or any taxes are raised. A good plan is to insure our affairs are in order before we start dealing with others affairs.

blkshoe946
blkshoe946

Send them the arms, take the money back, let them kill each other off, be good for the region 

wprout31756
wprout31756

Maybe they should practice more " Gun Control " there !

pjhnsn8
pjhnsn8

Take the money back and go home.

Kinnison
Kinnison

And you expected John Kerry to be a seasoned international diplomat and an articulate Secretary of State?  Did you not vet his background?  The staid and dignified "Old Boys Club" of the Senate is no preparation for the real world.  What President Obama wanted and got with Kerry was an excellent mirror of his world view and his goals.  That is not necessarily good for either the United States or the rest of the world...