To arm or not to arm — that is Obama’s question this week. As his administration gears up to do damage control surrounding PRISM in the next few days, it will also be deliberating whether to offer Bashar Al-Assad’s opponents military assistance. If you haven’t already decided for yourself whether we should do this, the answer, I can assure you, is no. The strongest opponents of Assad are also opponents of the United States. Arming them would mean building the strength of our enemies.
This is an old debate that is still coming back to haunt us — one that goes further back than Syria and Al-Assad. Remember Afghanistan circa 1980, when the Americans armed Osama bin Laden and the Mujahedeen against Russia? That was the same bin Laden who masterminded 9/11, and spurred the next decade of never-ending War on Terror and the horrors that come with it: Guantanamo, the NSA, Abu Ghraib, and so on.
But those times were different. The Mujahedeen seemed to be on the side of the United States. In 1983, some leaders even flew to the Oval Office to discuss matters with Ronald Reagan.
But the line between pro- and anti-American is much clearer this time around. Jabhat Al-Nusra, arguably the most powerful and visible of all opposition groups now fighting in Syria, pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in April. They have referred to the United States as an "enemy of Islam," which is also significant to know considering Al-Nusra's vision is that Syria becomes an Islamic state.
A recent article from Reuters reported that members of Jahat Al-Nusra executed a 15-year old boy for heresy when he was overheard saying,
“Even if the Prophet Mohammad comes down [from heaven], I will not become a believer.” We can't be Al-Nusra's friend now. And we will not magically become friends after we give them aid and weapons.
The concern for Syria's well-being is deserved. The country is not just being torn apart, it is crumbling. One of the more iconic pictures of the current conflict is this one.
Somehow the Umayyid Mosque managed to survive centuries in Aleppo, but did not last even two years in this civil war. Valerie Amos, the UN's top humanitarian official, said that Syria as we knew it has been totally destroyed. "It's estimated that two years of conflict have set back Syria's development by two decades," she said.
The pictures of Syrian children and families displaced in and outside their country is always going to be heartbreaking. But the Obama administration has to separate Syria's humanitarian needs from its political needs, because they are not one and the same. And supporting Al-Assad's opponents, most of whom are non-Syrian extremists, does not improve the welfare of Syrians. Nor does a Syria in which Jabhat Al-Nusra holds power, reflect the desire of the natives.
When a reporter from The Economist asked one Nusra fighter about Syrians' widespread distrust of his faction, the fighter replied: "It would be great if the Syrians were with us but the kuffar (infidels) are not important. Abraham and Sarah were facing all the infidels, for example, but they were doing the right thing. The number with us doesn't matter."
So if a military intervention is not what we need and not what Syrians want, then we won't give them weapons, right? And we will take more time constructing a better solution, right? Let's hope Obama is just as logical.