The Syrian opposition’s spokesmen and advocates barely paused to say thank you before immediately beginning to push for more and heavier weapons, no-fly zones, air campaigns, and so on. The arming of the rebels may buy a few months, but when it fails to produce either victory or a breakthrough at the negotiating table the pressure to do more will build. Capitulating to the pressure this time will make it that much harder to resist in a few months when the push builds to escalate.
In response to Lynch, Larison observes that neither hawks nor doves endorse the president’s decision:
It is telling that virtually no one thinks it is worth doing by itself. Most Syria hawks have been demanding this measure only as the first step towards greater U.S. involvement, and everyone else in the debate has been rejecting it as useless or harmful, but there is no one that believes that this is what U.S. Syria policy ought to be. That is why the decision is so disturbing and foolish. The U.S. almost never scales back a foreign commitment and sooner or later opts for increased direct involvement. The administration has put itself in an untenable position of promoting a policy that no one can defend in good faith while ceding the initiative to the hawks that want a much bigger commitment. Syria hawks recognize the capitulation for what it is, and have wasted no time in clamoring for much more.
Rania Abouzeid points out that other countries’ attempts to organize the rebels by supplying arms have failed:
For the past year or so, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have sponsored a structured effort, with U.S. and Turkish backing, to funnel weapons—mainly light armaments like rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and ammunition—to select rebel groups. The conduits have been the rebel F.S.A.’s various hierarchical structures, including military councils in each of Syria’s fourteen provinces. These were supposed to be the main tap for weapons, and an instrument of control over the men on the ground; they never were. The Saudis and the Qataris had conflicting ideas about which groups should be armed, and sent weapons in different directions. The operation was plagued, too, by claims of favoritism in the distribution process. Instead of being a model, the experience may provide a cautionary tale of what might go wrong with a U.S. effort to arm the rebels.
John Dickerson looks back:
The president has already confronted this complexity in Libya, where he tried to justify intervention to a war-weary nation on the basis of norms. In that instance, the president said that the international community had the responsibility to intervene when a state fails to protect its population from mass atrocities. The president described protecting the innocent in Libya as an American value. And allowing Qaddafi to massacre his people would have “stained the conscience of the world.”
But he added a second variable to the equation—the United States was taking action in Libya because it had the unique military capability to do so. In Syria, it doesn’t look like the president is going to add that second element; his advisers say he has ruled out boots on the ground or a no-fly zone (although that may be slipping, too).