Western and Arab capitals are all looking for friends among the so-called moderate elements. And yet the Free Syrian Army command is only as strong as its international backers allow it to be. Within the rebellion, strength comes from receiving weapons and ammunition that can be distributed to the men on the ground, to build credibility and leverage. But the current situation has emerged because the supplies either never came or were inconsistent and small, prompting fighters to buy weapons inside Syria, smuggle them from abroad, or manufacture their own.
They also turned to more hardcore Islamist elements, who—with their superior funding, supplies, and discipline—have been pivotal in securing many rebel victories. This contributed to a vicious circle: the United States has long expressed fears that any weapons it might send to Syria’s rebels will end up in the hands of extremists; the lack of weapons shipments has made the extremists stronger.
Fisher wonders whether arming Syrian moderates is now futile:
One line you often read, in stories articulating the United States’s many unattractive options in Syria, is that there may or may not have been a window for a Libya-style intervention early on in the conflict, but that we’ll never really know. We may now be at a similar point with the window for championing a branch of the opposition.
Larison weighs in:
Because the U.S. won’t and indeed legally cannot arm members of this “Islamist Alliance” on account of the involvement of Jabhat al-Nusra, that leaves the administration with the option of arming the weakest part of the weaker side in a civil war. That would seem to serve no purpose except to add more weapons to the mix, and there is no guarantee that any U.S.-provided weapons would not be lost to other groups that the U.S. has no wish to arm. That has always been true, but now it is impossible for anyone to miss.