Mitt Romney's Calls For Arming Syrian Rebels Are Misguided and Dangerous

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called on the United States to begin arming the Syrian opposition after the most recent massacre carried out by the Assad government. Other supporters of U.S. involvement included Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (R-Conn.).

Romney used the recent murder of Syrian dissidents as an opportunity to make President Obama look weak on foreign policy. "President Obama's lack of leadership has resulted in a policy of paralysis that has watched Assad slaughter 10,000 individuals," he said. 

The former governor of Massachusets also pushed for the U.S. to step up pressure on Russia to stop arming the Assad regime. "We should increase pressure on Russia to cease selling arms to the Syrian government and to end its obstruction at the United Nations. And we should work with partners to arm the opposition so they can defend themselves." 

McCain and Lieberman also took very critical stances on what they see as Obama’s weak response to the Syrian crisis. McCain said he was “embarrassed” at the lack of American response to the ongoing violence against dissidents by the Assad regime. 

Lieberman also took a critical view of Russia and its decision to continue arming Assad saying “It is not a fair fight that Russian arms continue to flow into Syria and obviously the opposition is not prepared to take on (President) Bashar Al-Assad from the brutal murders, rape and torture that continue to be Bashar’s instrument of trying to maintain control of Syria.”

These hawkish takes on Syria oversimplify the Syrian situation and don’t take into account the possible effects of inserting U.S. arms into the already violent situation. U.S.'s involvement could have far reaching consequences by inflaming Sunni and Shiite tensions in the region and helping to legitimize Assad’s claims that the rebellion is fuelled by international forces.

Former Secretary of State Leonid Brezinski had a much more informed and rational take on the situation. Having been the first to arm the Mujahedin in Afghanistan while serving under the Carter Administration, perhaps he has a better understanding of the unpredictable effects of arming such an opposition group. 

“It is not as horrible or as dramatic as it is portrayed. If you look at the world in recent years, the horrible war in Sri Lanka, the killings in Rwanda, and the deaths in Libya and so forth. You know, let’s have a sense of proportion here. 

This is a neurological part of the world in which all of a sudden if we are not intelligent about it we can create a nexus between a difficult internal problem which has not assumed huge proportions yet and a regional problem and a global problem which involves our relationships with the other major powers, particularly Russia, but also the negotiations with Iran over the nuclear problem.”

U.S.'s involvement does not guarantee democracy or a U.S.-friendly outcome either. Former CIA agent and Middle East expert Michael Scheuer expressed doubts that democracy would emerge from any of the Arab Spring revolutions and warned against U.S. involvement. Many feel arming opposition groups in uprisings like this will simply help to trade despotism for more despotism.

The White House, the only actor with actual responsibility over this decision, has adopted a rational and cautious approach to Syria, anticipating the potential for a disaster if the U.S. were to become involved. "There are elements to the Syrian opposition that do not share the democratic ideas of the broad Syrian people who are not necessarily friends of the United States," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. 

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