According to reports, President Obama has signed a ‘covert order’ authorizing the CIA and other US agencies to take steps to help Syrian rebel forces in their fight to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The international community has been deeply divided as to what to do about the escalating conflict in Syria. Kofi Annan, who was acting as the UN’s special envoy to Syria, recently stepped down, citing the Syrian government’s “intransigence” and the “disunity” of the international community as the key roadblocks to finding a solution to end the bloodshed.
The Obama administration will reportedly provide assistance to the rebels by increasing supplies of communications equipment, sharing military intelligence, and helping the rebels become better organized.
President Obama has faced criticism for being too cautious on Syria, however, with Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney recently accusing him of “abdicating leadership” on the issue. Officially, the Obama administration has put up to $64 million in “non-lethal” assistance to the Syrian people, which has been channelled various aid agencies, but has stopped short of providing the rebels with arms.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, and that 19,000 people have been killed since fighting began in March, 2011.
We asked our Question of the Day participants to tell us whether they think the US should or should not support the Syrian rebel forces.
The largest proportion of our participants were against the US overtly supporting the Syrian rebel forces.
- ‘We don’t know who they are’ was a widely expressed fear among those who were opposed to the US supporting rebel factions.
- Another prominent reason given by participants arguing the case against giving support, was the possibility that groups fighting to overthrow the Assad regime could be comprised of anti-American Islamic extremists. Some cited as a point of reference US support for Afghan rebel groups fighting the Soviets in 1980s, members of whom later evolved into the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
- Many of you said that the Obama administration should focus on fixing problems at home instead of becoming further entangled in Middle Eastern conflicts, and that the US did not have enough resources to get involved in costly foreign wars.
A smaller proportion of those of you who took part in the discussion were in favour of the US providing support for the Syrian rebels.
- Those who were of this view argued that the US had a ‘duty’ to protect innocent people being massacred by the Assad regime, and to support freedom and democracy wherever possible.
- Another argument made by some participants pro-intervention was that it was in US’s strategic interests to support the rebels.
To those participants who said they were in favour of the US supporting the Syrian rebels, we asked as a follow up whether they thought the Obama administration should or should not give lethal arms to the Syrian rebels - to ascertain the kind of support they advocated.
The largest proportion of those in favour of backing the rebels, told us they were also in favour of the Obama administration arming the Syrian rebels.
- Many of you said that providing the rebels with weapons would give them a fighting chance against government forces, and could help prevent further killing of civilians.
- There were some who held the perception that arming rebel fighters would help speed regime change in Syria, and would help counteract other countries' – particularly Russia's – resistance to intervention on the rebels' behalf.
There were those of you who felt, by contrast, that the Obama administration was right to limit support for the anti-regime resistance to ‘non-lethal assistance’, and who wouldn’t want the US arming the rebels.
- Participants argued that giving either side more weapons would just lead to more killing.
- Many of you said the Obama administration should support the rebels in other ways, such as through humanitarian aid, but were against providing weapons.
(Click on each argument below to see more quotes.)
Should the US provide the Syrian rebels with support?
“This is yet another scheme to get us into another war which we cannot afford, neither in our military's lives, or in the funding of it. We don't even know if we'd be aiding Al Qaeda and causing even more innocent lives lost” Anon
“Too entangled in the Middle East already, while ignoring other parts of the world, and not making any friends. Our support in helping further instability there, and only increases the likelihood of further radical Muslim influenced governments and terrorism from what I can see. Little return (if any) on our investment in men and money” John, Arizona
“We need to stay out of internal fights in other countries. There is no winning in this battle. The U.S. support becomes a lightning rod for other groups. If the rebels want to fight, all the power to them, but they need to fight on their own. How did we feel about external support of our rebels during our civil war?” Anon
“It's merely putting your nose into other countries’ business. They have been fighting and rebelling for centuries, and our presence would make no difference unless we intervened offensively militarily. … Anyway, as the past has shown us countless times, once we help the rebels and they thrive, our next enemies could be them.” Jmz, Clearfield, Utah
“Our country needs to concentrate on taking care of our own citizens and country, not other countries. It's their fight, not ours. Why put American lives at risk for something that is their problem not ours. We should be concentrating on building our own national security and defense, and our allies (Israel most of all), not the others who have been fighting for many decades” Anon
“We need to stop trying to police the world. We have enough domestic problems without getting into that mess” Jeff, Emporia KS
“We need to get out of almost all other countries’ personal business. If we need to get involved, declare war and go take care of business. A perfect example is Vietnam where we let American business concerns (profit) dictate how we conducted our policy and combat efforts. Iraq is another perfect example of our government needlessly wasting American lives” Larry, Phoenix AZ
“I like that we waited for the people to free themselves first. But the Russians and Chinese are helping the president, so I like that we are in the background with our special forces” Toni, Greensboro, NC
“The only way the Syrian people will ever have freedom is to get out from under the despotic rule of the present government. In order to do that they need the help of freedom-loving people around the world. We are the ones best equipped to do that” Dave, Azle TX
“The Syrian government has lost the support of the populace and are committing murder against those people. The Rebels are trying to protect the populace and overthrow the government to bring about democracy and peace” James, Arkansas
“The Middle East is governed by despots and eventually these despots will be overthrown and it’s best that we are part of the solution, instead of standing around waiting to pick up the pieces. If we are seen as caring and willing to help liberate the people then we are more apt to be perceived as non-threatening than an enemy” Anon
“We need to support the Syrian people’s struggle for liberty without entangling the US into another war abroad” Piper1233, West Palm Beach FL
“To immediately stop the brutal murders of thousands of men, women, and children, and the countless others who had their human rights gravely abused. And to eventually topple the regime and have the people elect true leaders to represent them. In the long run, the Syrian regime is Iran's only true ally in the region. Having a regime change would drastically effect Iran's influence in the region and be a blow against the Iranian regime” ZB
“Assad has proved to be an enemy of the US and of his own people. He deserves to be overthrown every bit as much as Qaddafi in Libya did” MCM, Carlsbad CA
“I think the rebels have a right to remove a lousy dictator and to find a person to place in power who will do everything they can to improve life in that country. I do not want Obama to use our army to help them but food and even arms would be OK with me” Nancy, Tallahassee FL
Should the US provide the Syrian rebels with lethal arms?
“To enable them to overthrow the current regime in Syria and enable the people to live a better life. Freedom makes for more security in the world” Anon
“That is obvious. The Russians and Chinese are giving aid to the Syrian government. The rebels need our help” Dave, Azle TX
“To sit back and watch a slaughter seems un-American. Additionally, as seen in Libya, perhaps a little bit of nurture can lead to a whole lot of nudging, and another minority dictatorship toppled by the majority of the peoples” Polo, DC
“They need to be able to fight for themselves and protect their families and countries” Allyson, Girard, Ohio
“The rebels are fighting against weapons with some of their own weapons but nothing compared to what the government has. Also, the government is being supplied with tanks and weapons from Russia and Iran so someone needs to help the rebels” Becky, Mentor OH
“To allow the rebels to more easily protect the civilians from the regime, and have a better fighting chance at gaining the freedom they are fighting for” ZB
“To help the Syrian people overthrow Assad. I understand the hesitation due to ‘blowback’ (Afghanistan in the 80s resulted in Osama Bin Laden), but sometimes we just need to do the right thing” Mark, Boise ID
“Until we know who it is we're dealing with, we should not provide weapons. We can give them help strategically and in other ways but it would be dangerous to give weapons if they are terrorists” Paula, Roanoke VA
“Weapons would only increase the casualties and violence should not be encouraged; there is enough of it already. Rather, pressure on the government to cease violence against the rebels and reach a peaceful resolution should be the course of action” Carrie, San Diego
“It is unclear who the rebels may be. These same weapons can be used in intimidate innocent people” Anon
“The Russians and the Chinese should not give arms to the government and we should not arm the rebels. If neither side had arms they could not continue this genocide. We all need to work to bring both sides together and get the government to walk away so the people can elect a government freely” Sande, Rochester NY
“I don't want to see the US dragged into another war, especially in the Middle East. Find a political or diplomatic way to get Assad out” Elaine, Michigan
“By supplying one side of a conflict only assists in encouraging some other country (say Russia) to supply the other side, prolonging the bloodshed” Tom, Southern Tier NY