But it is the right choice.
Actually, 400 years ago, Thomas Hobson ran his livery business on a take it or leave it basis. You rode the horse Hobson offered you (from the stall nearest the entrance) or you didn’t ride at all. That reality became history’s famous Hobson’s Choice. That’s sort of where President Obama found himself as he contemplated what to do in the Syrian Civil War. He rides with (arms and trains) the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or he doesn’t ride at all.
With the just-passed 78-22 Senate vote approving aid to the rebels in Syria, the authorizing legislation should be on the President’s desk for signature right away. The House approved the bill on Wednesday.
The vote has created new fault lines within both parties. We even have Republicans and Democrats joining together to criticize the President’s decision to aid the Rebels. “Intervention that destabilizes the Middle East is a mistake. And yet, here we are again, wading into a civil war,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat in a difficult re-election campaign, echoed Rand’s sentiments saying, “I disagree with my president” on the wisdom of having the U.S. military become involved. “It is time for the Arab countries to step up and get over their regional differences” and be more aggressive in the fight against terrorists.”
Well, we think Senator’s Rand and Begich are both wrong.
Someone is, sooner or later, going to overthrow the brutal Bahsar al- Assad regime. It is going to be the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which we are now officially aiding, the marauding and murderous, fanatical Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), or the equally odious al Qaeda offshoot, Al Nusra Front (which is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the US State Department). Like the Islamic state, Al Nusra is also determined to establish its own Islamic State in Syria.
A little history. Remember, it was three years ago this past spring that protests broke out throughout Syria, not unlike the protests that broke out throughout much of the Arab world in what has been called the Arab Spring. The Syrian protests were, initially, not the product of Islamic agitation. The protests consisted of mostly young, secular protestors who wanted to stop the abuses of the Assad regime and bring democratic reform to Syria. Bashar Al-Assad ruthlessly cracked down on the protestors, killing and gassing many of them. It was at this point that a number of officers in Assad’s army, led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, balked, refusing to fire on the protestors. They formed the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), and were followed by thousands of other members of the regular Syrian Army who defected over to Riad al-Asaad.
No doubt, many of the defectors simply hated Assad’s ruling Alawite regime, a minority Shiite offshoot, simply because they (the defectors) were Sunnis. Many defectors were certainly not white knights in shining armor. As the fighting has unfolded there have been isolated but grizzly incidents documenting very serious human rights abuses among troops of the FSA.
The FSA has, however, evolved into somewhat more of a unified and disciplined organization, and its leadership has pledged to recognize the Geneva Convention and follow the basic rules of war. The FSA clearly desires Western support and has made it clear that its only enemy is Bashar al-Assad and his ruthless Alawite regime. The FSA’s earlier cooperation with ISIS against Assad ruptured when ISIS began instituting Sharia law in areas it controlled.
We now know that FSA representatives had been meeting with Israeli army officers in Israel, and that Israel has provided medical aid, clothing and light weapons to FSA. We’ve even screened a YouTube video posted by Al-Nusra, in which Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion (who was captured by Al-Nusra) admitted to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms. “The (FSA) would receive support and send the injured to Israel on condition that the Israeli fence area is secured. No person was allowed to come near the fence without prior coordination with Israel authorities,” Safouri said in the video.
General Salem Idris, who chairs the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army and other FSA leaders have been calling on the United States to increase support to the FSA by providing heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is very active in Syria (along with Iran) on behalf of the Assad regime.
“What we want from the U.S. government is to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons,” Idris said. “Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.”
General Idris said his group would go to Geneva to discuss ending the fighting “if Syrian President Bashar al Assad would resign and leave the country, and the military officials of the regime brought to justice.” That seems very consistent with what the United States has said it wants to see as well.
There is no way we are going to ally ourselves with either Islamic State, with whom we are at war, or Al Nusra, whose parent al-Qaeda has already killed more Americans than the Japanese killed at Pearl Harbor. And tolerating Assad, which is the only other alternative, would be shameful, and it would play into the hands of both Iran and Hezbollah.
So, all of the hyperventilating by those who oppose aiding the rebels really is about being all in to help or not help the Free Syrian Army (FSA). We come down on the side of arming and training FSA, and we believe we should have been doing that a long time ago.
The choices we have seem quite clear.
The FSA says it is running low on ammunition and they don’t have effective weapons to counter Assad’s use of airpower. They also claim that there’s a growing presence of Russian military advisers in Damascus as well as growing numbers of Iranian and Iraqi fighters.
We also know that Hezbollah is leading the fight for Assad in Homs, which is Syria’s third largest city after Aleppo to the north and Damascus to the south. According to the FSA, estimates of Hezbollah’s presence in Homs are four to seven thousand fighters while the FSA has only two thousand fighters in the area.
President Obama’s decision to support the more moderate Syrian insurgents while fighting ISIS was a difficult call for him. He now understands there is no quick fix, and that we are locking horns with radical Islam for the long haul. It is the antithesis of the role he envisioned for America. Yet, it is the right call. It is recognition that we simply can’t declare a safer world or unilaterally reset our relationships with those whose worldview is antithetical to our own.
Our choice has come down to confronting deadly enemies now or later. Our radical Islamic adversaries, be they Hezbollah or Iran supporting Assad, or the Islamic State have been unambiguous about their intent. We are their big Satan. We, the West and Israel are their ultimate targets. We can confront them now on our terms, or later on their terms. The President and Congress have made the right call.
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