Last winter, in an article for Foreign Affairs, I argued that in light of escalating violence in Syria it was time to back the Syrian national coalition. Given that the Syrian moderates were “the only forces in the country without a steady flow of foreign arms,” I suggested that providing “military and financial support to the national coalition” was the best of many far less desirable options.
After months of deliberations in Washington and European capitals, the die was cast. Two months ago, the European Union decided not to extend a comprehensive arms embargo against Syria, effectively facilitating European military support for the opposition. Two weeks after that, the White House authorized the “expansion of assistance to the supreme military council.”
These were anything but easy calls. Since the Syrian conflict arose, the notion of getting involved in it has posed severe moral, tactical, and strategic dilemmas. The assessment, as I laid it out in my original article, that “the kaleidoscope of opposition groups in Syria seems too fractured, and their ideological leanings too opaque, to merit support” was and remains difficult to dismiss, as does the fact that that supporting one side in the Syrian conflict could “effectively close the door on negotiations with the regime.” In fact, with seven months lost and 100,000 people killed, these quandaries have only gotten worse.
All this is not to say, however, that the Western decision to arm the opposition is wrong, especially if it is planned the right way. To that end, in the last few weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed ways to coordinate flows of weapons from Western and Arab states with his Saudi counterpart in Jeddah. At the same time, calls to broaden engagement by setting up a no-fly zone are gaining traction among Republicans, a sentiment that echoes long-standing calls from within the Syrian opposition. But potential costs aside, two years of war have shown that the United States will need to do more than just focus on
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