The Syria debate: The U.S. must tread carefully on arms shipments

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Washington officials have been debating this week a decision to provide -- or not to provide -- greater arms assistance to the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The discussion pits at least two rather curious camps within the administration of President Barack Obama against each other. Those favoring further U.S. military intervention include the Department of Defense, in search of another war to reinforce its continued claim on the lion's share of the U.S. budget. This group is backed by America's war industries.

It also includes, in order to halt the carnage, the humanitarian interventionist group, responding to the toll of lives of the Syrian conflict so far and the large number of displaced persons driven from their homes by the war. It further includes those who favor the United States dealing with states, such as Iraq and now Syria, that might serve as a danger to Israel.

The other side, continuing to oppose the United States being dragged into the Syria conflict, seeing it as a dark street without joy, has been led by the president himself. It cites the utter confusion on the Syrian opposition side of the house, which includes even groups affiliated with al-Qaida. It cites the lack of wisdom in changing one regime -- if it can be done -- in favor of another, unknown one.

Opposition to deeper U.S. involvement in Syria also cites America's current financial difficulties, which have led to budget deficits, a spiraling national debt and currently to destructive sequestration. Finally, those resisting the pull to draw America into Syria with the necessary heavy level of resources cite the general lack of success the country has encountered in recent long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Three new developments bear on the debate -- first, Syrian government forces' recent success in retaking Qusair from the rebels, with the unsurprising help of the Lebanese organization Hezbollah, which Syria has helped for decades.

The second new development was the outrageous position taken by the Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Salim Idris, that the opposition will not attend the conference that U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are trying to organize in Geneva unless the United States provides them more and heavier arms, a breathtaking piece of blackmail.

The third new development is that fighting in Syria spilled over last week into the Golan Heights, near Syrian territory occupied by Israel, underlining again the need for the Geneva conference to try to move the parties to the conflict from the battlefield to the negotiating table.

The U.S. government elements discussing this matter in Washington have much to reflect on and little margin for error.



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