Joint Chiefs Chairman Throws Cold Water On Arming Syrian Rebels

Yesterday the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff downplayed the idea of arming the Syrian rebels:

(CNN) — The United States is not interested in providing weapons to opposition forces in Syria until it has a better picture of what those forces are, the top U.S. military officer said in an interview aired Sunday.

“I think it’s premature to take a decision to arm the opposition movement in Syria, because I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

More than 50 prominent U.S. conservatives signed an open letter last week urging the Obama administration to “take immediate action” against the Syrian regime, including “self-defense aid” to an armed opposition led by defected government troops. Among the signatories were some of the leading voices in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as well as the former head of the U.S.-led occupation government there.

And Sen. Joe Lieberman told CNN last week that a “coalition of the willing” should assist Syria’s opposition forces since Syrian allies Russia and China vetoed action at the United Nations. Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent who was also a leading Iraq hawk, said the United States and its allies could provide the rebels with medical aid, communications and ultimately, weapons.

But Dempsey, an Army general who served two tours of duty in Iraq, warned that Syria is “an arena right now for all of the various interests to play out.” Those interests include neighbors such as NATO ally Turkey; the region’s Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is Syria’s leading ally; and the al Qaeda terrorist network, which has shown signs of interest in the conflict, he said.

“There’s a number of players, all of whom are trying to reinforce their particular side of this issue. And until we’re a lot clearer about, you know, who they are and what they are, I think it would be premature to talk about arming them,” Dempsey said.

This strikes me as a wise position. As Dempsey noted, there have already been plenty of signs that al Qaeda and other radical forces have been working to insinuate themselves into rebel ranks. Additionally, given Syria’s location and its proximity to Iraq and Lebanon, the possibility of such weapons falling into the wrong hands is fairly high. Rather than rushing into this blindly like the John McCain’s of the world would like, it would be nice to know who were dealing with first.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I have to agree with this assessment.

    And… “coalition of the willing?!?!?!”

    Holy crap – if he thinks that recycling Iraq run-up imagery is a good idea, Lieberman has learned nothing.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    I certainly don’t think we should directly arm these folks and the presence of Lieberman and co doesn’t advance the case. On the other hand if there was some backdoor encouragement of others in the region to provide support then Dempsey wouldn’t be broadcasting it would he?