Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How arming the rebels may win the war for Assad

It's a common refrain, to hear how we should arm the right rebels in Syria.  These are apparently the rebels who do not commit war crimes, are not Islamic terrorists, are not criminals, are not going to set up their own dictatorship, and are not sectarian extremists.  They're not only well-intentioned, but also capable of implementing their good intentions.  So we're down to about ten people that we can safely give weapons.

See the problem yet?

There is already in-fighting among the rebels.  Some groups are just trying to seize territory for themselves rather than actually free their country from Assad.  They'll attack others, even other opponents of the regime.  As with any civil war or resistance movement, there is the war against the regime and the war to be the faction that wins.  Look at China where even the Japanese invasion and occupation caused the civil war to be given ever so slightly lower priority.

What happens when we give arms to particular groups?  They may be stolen or sold off, since even if the group overall or its leaders are good people, they are not filled with perfect people.  The groups that we arm may be attacked more heavily by the regime, thereby making the less savory groups relatively safer and more powerful.  They may be attacked by other factions that seek to steal their weapons.  They may be more desirable for infiltration by extremists.

The overall result is that giving arms to the right rebels is not a guarantee that the Assad regime will fall or that its replacement will be significantly better.  If the new government isn't going to be any better than the old, then what's the point?  Assad may as well have been allowed to win if that's the case.  We shouldn't be so quick to forget what happened in Afghanistan.