Sen. Bob Casey had an op-ed in Foreign Policy yesterday calling on the United States to "provide non-lethal equipment to vetted elements of the Free Syrian Army." It appears the Obama administration isn't quite ready to do that, as Secretary of State Kerry announced the U.S. would provide military rations and medical equipment. Unfortunately, it's another too tentative step by the Obama administration regarding Syria. I've had my conversion on this issue and I just keep hoping the administration would catch up. Apparently so does Sen. Casey.
As much as I agree with giving non-lethal aid to vetted (how do we do that, I'm not sure) elements of the FSA, there are still a couple things I disagree with in his op-ed. First, I just don't agree with this statement:
Inaction could have grave regional consequences and serve to empower Iran at a time of nuclear uncertainty and embolden Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has proven its ability and intent to strike in and outside the Middle East.
Now maybe, maybe if Assad is able to crush this rebellion the above statement would be true, but I think we're over the tipping point. There is no going back to status quo ante (you share a blog with a lawyer long enough). Coming from that perspective, state implosion holds little prospects for Iran or Hezbollah. Perhaps they could benefit from the chaos, but they're all in with Assad and his regime, which would make any pivot to a new puppet really difficult. No, the real danger in the unmanaged implosion of Syria is the rise of an Islamic extremist state or safe haven. Sen. Casey fails to mention that threat and instead it feels like he's pandering by raising the specter of Iran (though I'd likely say the same thing if he invoked AQ too).
The second thing I question is if indeed our substantive aid, at this point, would really gain us many friends among the Syrian people. Or rather, would we just be laying the groundwork for the next authoritarians? Now this isn't a reason to not do it, but to think we give them non-lethal and maybe even lethal aid and then they're our friends when Assad falls is a bit of wishful thinking. It's especially wishful thinking in light of our Afghan and Libyan experiences in the most recent past. Again, not a reason to do nothing, but not a good reason to sell it to the American people.
On the whole, I'm with Sen. Casey here and it's hard to sell this sort of thing to the American people, but some of the reasons he outlines misstate the real threat or overstate the real benefit. Let's give the FSA non-lethal aid straight away, but let's be real honest on the situation when we do it.