Syria's cost: The U.S. risks being drawn in with its new aid
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The commitment by Secretary of State John F. Kerry to provide $60 million in additional aid to Syria's rebels will drag the United States further into that two-year-old conflict, with no promise of a clear or useful outcome.
Mr. Kerry announced the new package Thursday in Rome after a meeting with Syrian opposition leaders. The rebels had threatened to boycott the session because of what they considered weak support from the West. Earlier in the week Mr. Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden made separate phone calls to opposition coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib, urging him to attend the meeting with Mr. Kerry and the rebels' other foreign donors.
So far the United States has given the Syrian opposition $365 million in assistance.
Acting in the face of differences of American opinion on whether the United States should support the rebels, a disputatious group of factions that includes violent Islamist radicals, Mr. Kerry pledged that the help would go beyond the largely humanitarian aid provided so far, to a package of "nonlethal" help including sanitation projects, education and security.
"Nonlethal" sounds harmless, but that isn't necessarily the case. It includes equipment that is useful on the battlefield, such as communications and night vision gear. Second, there will also be training, which means U.S. "boots on the ground" in the region. Third, all such aid is fungible. If the United States provides the rebels with body armor, they can spend the money they get from the Saudi Arabians, Qataris and others on rockets, machine guns or other arms. The attempt by Mr. Kerry to limit U.S. aid to the "nonlethal" category is without meaning.
The administration of President Barack Obama seemed to be showing good sense in keeping the United States out of the civil war in Syria, but it now seems to be abandoning that position without having explained the reason to the public. Fully consistent with the need for America to address its domestic needs has been the end of the Iraq war and the start of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The budget sequester, which takes effect today, spotlights the current squeeze on all U.S. government spending.
Now it appears that the United States is in for more unnecessary spending -- by increasing its involvement in Africa with the creation of a new drone base in Niger, and in Syria with Mr. Kerry's promise of more costly aid to the rebels. Mr. Obama has yet to explain these two new ventures. What is he doing and why?
First Published March 1, 2013 12:00 am