Our Secret Syria Policy

Earlier this week Reuters reported that small “arms supplied by the United States are flowing to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress.” The funding was approved behind closed doors “in classified sections of defense appropriations legislation.” Jonathan Coppage comments:

While there is surely great diversity in Syrian rebel forces, the inclination of many prominent foreign policy voices in SyriaCongress and the media to follow John McCain’s lead in seeing a George Washington in every irregular colonel does not give one great confidence that classified Congressional appropriators are well positioned to put guns in good hands. …

[W]hile secrecy surely has a necessary place in foreign policy and military decision making, the sheer amount of uncertainty created by classified national security and military budgets necessarily undermines the possibility of democratic governance and accountability. The fact that not even the reporters breaking the story can quite nail down when the classified budget was passed makes combating waste and fraud seemingly a fool’s errand.

Michael Brendan Dougherty fears that arming Syria’s rebels will prove counterproductive:

One of the typical measures in Just War theory is that the conflict have a reasonable expectation of succeeding in its aims. But American intervention in Syria seems to be about preserving the balance of chaos in a civil war. As counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel told Reuters: “The Syrian war is a stalemate. The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad; the regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides’ external allies… are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future.”

And it gets worse: By offering the rebels only a modest amount of support, the U.S. is inviting precisely the kind of carnage that the international community has condemned with such force.

(Chart from YouGov’s latest polling on Syria)