When the Syrian revolt was in full swing last year, President Barack Obama rejected calls from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former CIA Director David Petraeus to arm Syrian rebels. Obama agreed to only humanitarian aid, staying clear of what looks more like a quagmire in Syria. When the “Arab Spring” spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Syria March 11, 2011, it was unclear who was sponsoring the revolt against 47-year-old Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reports of al-Qaeda mujahedeen, displaced Palestinians and Saudi Arabian Whahhabi fighters seeking to topple al-Assad’s Alawite Shiite regime sent red flags to the White House, reluctant to embroil the U.S. in more civil wars. Without knowing exactly what type of regime would follow al-Assad, Obama’s closest foreign policy advisors cautioned against U.S. intervention.
Sen. John McCain called on the floor of the U.S. Senate March 5, 2012 for the White House to start bombing Syria, citing mounting casualties from al-Assad’s relentless attempt to hang on to power. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the West about toppling the al-Assad regime. While Russia has strong economic ties to Syria, including the Tartus Navy port, Russia believes that the region is more stable preserving al-Assad’s power. Believing in linkage, Obama sees the advantage of building strong ties with Moscow over placating unknown Syrian rebels with ties to al-Qaeda, other terrorist groups and rogue states. Since taking office Jan. 20, 2008, Obama has been slow to end U.S. foreign wars, only ending the Iraq War Dec. 31, 2011. While planning to end the Afghan War in late 2014, Obama’s reluctant to open up a new military conflict.
Clinton, Petraeus and McCain had no problem arming Syrian rebels without knowing their loyalties to various terrorist groups or rogue states. Only Syrian rebels condemned Israel for striking a Syrian arms convoy loaded with anti-aircraft weapons heading to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Proving Obama correct, Syrian rebel leaders blasted the al-Assad regime for not retaliating against Israel. Fighting a bloody war against Syrian rebels, al-Assad kept his focus on insurgents, outside terrorists and Palestinians now led by once Damascus-based former al-Assad friend Khalid Meshaal. While Syrian Army Chief Gen. Ali Abduallah Ayoub warned Israel of retaliation yet knowing that Islamic rebel groups, not Israel, represents the growing threat to al-Assad’s reigme. Seizing on the Israel strike, rebel leaders display why the U.S. cannot support any Islamist groups.
Al-Assad didn’t retaliate against Israel because he’s concerned more about rebel groups seeking to topple his regime. “I am 100 percent sure the regime will not retaliate,” said a rebel fighter named Mosab. “Assad has never once stood up to Israel,” said Hamal Labwani, a prominent Syrian dissident and member of the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group of those trying to oust Assad. Rebel groups are angry with Assad for not retaliating against Israel and instead turning the Syrian military on rebel groups. Unlike Israel that chooses to hang on to the Golan Heights, rebel groups seeking to topple al-Assad all have competing interests. Saudi-backed Wahhabi groups want to install another Taliban-like Islamic state. Palestinians want to seize any territory after years of displacement. All rebel factions agree on only one thing: Their hatred and intent to destroy Israel.
When Labwani said “Assad has never once stood up to Israel,” he has a short memory, forgetting Bashar’s father, Haffez al-Assad, joined 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars to annihilate the Jewish State. Each time Syria was humiliated militarily, losing territory and prestige. Calling Zionism a “cancerous movement,” 52-year-old activist Mouaz al- Khalib praised the late Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein. If rebels all seek to destroy Israel, Obama was correct not arming them. Syria’s support of Hamas—the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip—and Hezbollah in Lebanaon, attests to how al-Assad supports a proxy war against Israel. Since Israel is the U.S.’s only true ally in the region, arming rebel groups does not advance U.S. national security. Hillary, Petraeus and McCain know this, despite urging Obama to start bombing Damascus. Whether liked or not, supporting al-Assad—like the Russians—serves U.S. interests.
Obama’s shown wise national security instincts not to arm various rebel factions seeking to topple al-Assad. Most foreign policy experts agree that maintaining the strongest possible ties with Russia serves U.S. national security. Opening up the kind of chaos now seen in Egypt and Libya would give the State Department a far bigger headache. “The first thing we would do is ask U.N. peacekeepers on the Golan to leave, and we will free occupied Syrian territory,” said Labwani, showing the kind of irrational thinking seen in various rebel groups. Al-Assad knows that move would help end the insurgency by inviting Israel to wipeout Syrian rebels attempting to topple his government. Hitting the convoy supplying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a warning shot to Syrian rebels. U.S. officials should heed Obama’s wisdom.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.