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Obama Reportedly Preparing To Send Military Aid To Syrian Rebels

The Washington Post is reporting that President Obama has decided to send military aid to the rebels fighting the government of Bashar Assad:

President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S. leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, according to senior administration officials.

The officials emphasized that political negotiation remains the preferred option. To that end, the administration has launched a new effort to convince Russian President Vladmir Putin that the probable use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government — and the more direct outside intervention that could provoke — should lead him to reconsider his support of Assad.

But Obama, who spoke by telephone with Putin Monday and is sending Secretary of State John F. Kerry to Moscow in the coming days, is likely to make a final decision on the supply of arms within weeks, before a scheduled meeting with Putin in June, officials said.

Confirmation of the use of chemical weapons by the government, Obama said Tuesday, would mean “there are some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would strongly consider.”

At a news conference, he emphasized the need to “make sure I’ve got the facts….If we end up rushing to judgement without hard, effective evidence, we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support” additional action. Administration officials have made repeated reference to the Bush administration’s inaccurate claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify its invasion of Iraq.

Yet even as Obama voiced caution in responding to what he has called the “red line” of chemical weapons, officials described him as ready to move on what one described as the “left-hand side” of a broad spectrum ranging from “arming the opposition to boots on the ground.”

“We’re clearly on an upward trajectory,” the official said. “We’ve moved over to assistance that has a direct military purpose.”

Officials did not specify what U.S. equipment is under consideration, although the rebels have specifically requested anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles.

Insertion of U.S. troops is opposed by Syria’s neighbors and by the American public in a series of recent polls. It remains highly unlikely barring a spillover of the conflict into major regional instability, significant chemical weapons use, or indications the weapons are falling into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked Islamic militants fighting alongside opposition forces.

In lieu of U.S. troops, American and allied military and contract personnel have been training Jordanian and rebel forces to deal with the chemical weapons threat. U.S. intelligence has also tried to contact Syrian government units charged with protecting the weapons to warn against their use, and United Nations experts are preparing to secure chemical sites in the event of a negotiated cease-fire.

But the senior official, one of several who discussed internal administration deliberations on condition of anonymity, said Obama has “not closed the door to other military actions,” in response to calls from the opposition, and some members of Congress, for protection against Syrian ballistic missiles and air attacks.

Asked about the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone over rebel-held areas of Syria, the official said that the administration was “reviewing all options.”

The devil, of course, will be in the details.Specifically, what weapons are we sending, who are we sending them too, and what steps we’re going to take to ensure that the weapons don’t fall into the hands of the Islamists and Jihadis who have become a significant part of the rebel forces. And, of course, it would be good to know exactly what other steps the President is considering and what the triggers would be that would give rise to further US involvement.

Personally, I don’t have a good feeling about this. But, then, I’m not the one who gets to make the decisions.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    I’m sure this option was always on the table. Whatever is decided, I think that the guy making the decision is IMO the best person in America qualified to do it.

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  2. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    The WaPo story reads like a barely-veiled shot across the Kremlin’s bow.

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  3. Tony higgins says:

    I think that Kerry is headed to Moscow is a pretty good indication a steep escalation is planned. I’m curious how the author could conclude that chemical weapons are unlikely to fall into al qaeda’s hands. Last I heard the chemical weapons were distributed broadly – unless we know where they all are and plan to send a cruise missile to every chemical weapons depot.

    And any talk of providing surface to air missiles to the opposition is foolishness; unless they can be remotely disabled with100% certainty.

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