Showing why President Barack Obama has the U.S. Syrian policy right, a group of unknown rebels seized a convoy of U.N. peacekeepers near the Golan Heights. Pressured to supply arms to Syrian rebels, Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry have confined U.S. aid to humanitarian relief. Syrian rebel commanders and conservatives in Congress have lobbied the White House to supply cash and arms to topple 47-year-old Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Today’s hostage taking shows why various rebel factions operate in Syria independently without any coordination with U.N., U.S. or European Union interests. Syrian rebels seized U.N. peacekeepers on the day the British and Arab League promised to provide direct support to Syrian rebel groups. Rebels seized the U.N. observers close to the village of Al Jamia where heavy fighting was reported Sunday.
Meeting in Doha, Qatar later this month, the Arab League announced that they would permit rebel leaders to replace representatives of Bashar al-Assad Damascus-based regime. Seizing U.N. observers stationed to secure the border between Israel and the Golan Heights shows the extremist ways rebels will go to topple al-Assad. “The command of the Matyrs of Yarmouk . . . is holding forces of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force until the withdrawal of forces of the regime of Bashar al-Assad from the outskirts of the village of Jami,” said an unnamed rebel spokesman. “If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners,” threatening U.N. peacekeepers. No rebel forces that expects to win support from the U.N. can simultaneously violate international law. Whatever the humanitarian in crisis, Syrian rebels can’t become outlaws.
Taking extreme measures to topple al-Assad, Syrian rebels crossed the line. Syria’s two strongest trading partners, Russia and China, don’t accept toppling al-Assad as the right move. Seizing 20 U.N. hostages proves Russia and China correct by demonstrating the lawlessness of various unknown rebel groups. No matter how brutally the al-Assad clings to power, turning Syria over to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Chechens or any other extremist groups would be a mistake. While British Foreign Secretary William Hague pledges support to Syrian rebels, the U.S. must think twice before alienating Russia and China. There’s more at stake for regional and global security to adopt the myopic view that it’s preferable to replace al-Assad with more radical groups. Unless the peacekeepers are immediately released, no Western power should deal with any Syrian rebels.
Confirming suspicions about the composition of Syrian rebels, a host of extremist Islamist groups have joined the fight to topple al-Assad. With Libya’s Gaddafi and Egypt’s Mubarak history, it’s time to reevaluate the so-called Arab Spring. Governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are far less stable then they were before the revolutions, leaving all three in the hands of Islamists. U.S. foreign policy can’t rubber stamp the U.K. when they’re barking up the wrong tree. “If a political solution to the crisis in Syria is not found and the conflict continues, we and the rest of the European Union will have to be ready to move further, and we should not rule out any option for saving lives,” said Hague, not realizing that various rebels groups have pounced on the chance to install another Islamic regime, not one necessarily friendly the U.N., U.S. or U.K. Hague denied suggesting military action.
Hague’s kidding himself that al-Assad will negotiate an end to his regime. Britain has been reluctant to commit troops to any crisis in recent years, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, Mali or any other hotspot. Members of the EU also have no stomach for armed conflict, especially if it’s not related directly to their national security. Even then, they rely heavily on the U.S. for the lion’s share of armed forces. Before Hague blows more smoke, Secretary of State John Kerry needs to remind Hague there may be bigger fish to fry in the not-too-distant future. With Iran snubbing its nose at the recent six-party talks in Kazakhstan, the U.S. and EU have their hands full trying to prevent Iran from getting an A-bomb. Hague’s worries about Syria exaggerate the dangers to U.K., U.S. and EU. Russia and China have a far more measured approach to the Syrian crisis.
Begging the U.S., EU and U.K. for arms, Syrian rebel leaders flashed their true colors seizing 20 law-abiding U.N. observers. Before the Syrian opposition gets any audience with the West, they need to release all hostages and promise never to pull the same stunt again. “The weapons are registered on lists with numbers on each weapon. We distribute those weapons. And we know precisely who has received them,” Syrian Free Syrian Army leader 55-year-old Brigadier Gen. Selim Idris told EU officials in Brussels. To test Idris’ reach, EU officials must demand urgently he order the immediate release of all U.N. prisoners. With al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Chechens, Hamas and other radical groups all seeking to topple al-Assad, Obama, Kerry and his new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should all meet with U.N., U.K. EU, China and Russia to determine how to proceed coherently in Syria.
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.