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Up Front

Is New Obama Direct Aid Policy to Syrian Rebels a ‘Nothing Burger’?

Michael Doran

The New York Times today reported that the United States, in a change of policy, is now providing direct aide to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Coming as it does in the midst of John Kerry’s fresh look at the Syria question, this news appears as if it might signal a significant change in American policy. If so, Secretary of State Kerry should be warmly commended. But there are at least three reasons to be highly skeptical.

First, the Obama administration has a track record of turning nothing burgers into steak sandwiches. For instance, last June, when the administration first came under pressure to get tough on Assad, the Times published a story suggesting that Washington was on the cusp of arming the Syrian opposition. That momentous change, we now know, never took place.

Second, a close look at today’s story leads one to ask, yet again, “Where’s the beef?” The United States, we learn, will now provide direct food and medical supplies to the FSA. In addition, Secretary of State Kerry is increasing an American support by $60 million. This is hardly a significant shift. Most Americans probably already believe that we were providing non-lethal support to the opposition.

Today’s news reports also inform us that in a third country (presumably Jordan or Turkey) an American mission, whose size and scope “is not clear,” is providing “training.” But training in what? We are not told, except that it will help the opposition provide “basic services.” We also learn, by the way, that this mission “is already under way.” In other words, it is not news at all.

The Russians, meanwhile, did their level best to embarrass Kerry. They responded to his meeting in Rome by announcing their continued lethal support for Assad’s military. “Russia will fulfill its obligations on weapons contracts with Syria,” the secretary of Moscow’s security council said. The Russians are, of course, not the only ones providing such assistance. The Iranian regime sends regular weapons shipments to Assad, while also helping him to stand up a new Alawite-based militia. Hezbollah, in effect an arm of the Iranian Qods Force, is fighting on the ground in Syria.

Therein lies the problem with the U.S. policy. Russia and Iran, Syria’s patrons, are all directly helping Assad to stay alive in a fight to the death. Meanwhile, Washington produces happy talk about teaming up with the Russians to broker an agreement between this murderous regime and its opposition. This policy of seeking a peaceful transition is a fantasy, a snare, and a delusion. It is a fig leaf and a placeholder. It is, in short, a non-policy. The only way to get to a post-Assad Syria is to topple Assad. Until his regime is destroyed, the killing will continue.

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