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.)