It's time to arm the Syrian rebels

Tom Rogan
The Week
Free Syrian Army fighters move through a hole in a wall during an infiltration operation, April 22.

Instead of red lines of resolve, we're acquiescing to another red line: one written in the blood of civilians and the burning embers of America's broken word

In the midst of the Boston investigation, the looming interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the challenge of immigration reform, and the fight over gun control, it's easy to forget that there's a world outside America.

But our attention mustn't fixate only on domestic concerns. There's an international crisis that requires our urgent action: the Syrian Civil War.

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The Syrian people desperately need our help. For more than two years, they've been brutalized with unrepentant fury.

It's time for that to stop. We must provide arms to select groups of Syrian rebels.

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Let's be clear: This is a path fraught with risk. Weapons we supply in good faith could end up in the hands of Islamic extremists, or with Bashar al-Assad's own forces. Rifles and rockets intended for liberation might be used against the very civilians we aim to save. For these reasons, President Obama has previously rejected similar armament plans.

But against this mountain of risk, we must pay attention to the new necessity of our engagement.

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Syria is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. More than 70,000 men, women and children have been killed. And Assad has upped his wanton destruction to catastrophic new heights. Just this weekend, Syrian forces entered the town of Jdaidet-al-Fadl and summarily executed several civilians. This is a regime that regards civilians as people to be pulverized into submission, rather than protected from the horrors war. Bashar al-Assad is a man who, like his father, will spare no effort to maintain his power.

Assad has slowed the once-vigorous rebel advance. And as Assad's forces seek to dominate the crucial region ringing Damascus, the rebellion's strength is being seriously degraded.

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There's also the WMD issue.

In recent days, considerable evidence has grown pointing to Assad's use of chemical weapons. In using these weapons despite warnings from America, Assad is laying down a challenge: Is the ink of American red lines matched by American resolve? Or does red on paper equal pink in practice?

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Assad deserves an answer and we should give him one.

Joining with allies like Britain and France, we should deploy CIA SAD officers into Syria. Once there, we would be able to build a more coherent intelligence picture. This would grant us the knowledge necessary to identify who to support, and a strategy allowing the focused provision of arms to nationalist-minded groups rather than Islamist terrorists. Finally, the rebels would have the anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles that they need to bring down this disgusting regime.

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Our current policy toward Syria is a bad joke. Like so many of our problems, we prefer to throw money rather than apply strategic courage. And the impact is telling. Instead of red lines of resolve, we're acquiescing to another red line: one written in the blood of civilians and the burning embers of America's broken word. This is foreign policy weakness at its raw and vicious worst.

Rarely in our history has the telling union of basic morality, clear capacity, and obvious strategic interest been so strong. Without risking the lives of our troops, or substantial treasure of our nation, we can do great good.

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We have the power to act, we just need the will. 

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