Lessons learned from Libya? Perhaps not, based on further comments below, but the apparent increase in discretion applied to this conflict is welcome. “Clinton: Arming Syria rebels could help Al-Qaeda,” from Agence France-Presse, February 27:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday warned against the US arming rebels in Syria because such a move could inadvertently lead to support for Al-Qaeda and Hamas.
Senior leaders of both groups “” which Washington classify as terrorist organizations “” have expressed their support for the loose-knit collection of Syrian rebels who have taken up arms against the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
US officials too have expressed backing for those intent on toppling Assad, and senior lawmakers including Senator John McCain have said it’s time to consider arming the rebel groups.
Clinton poured cold water on such action.
“We really don’t know who it is that would be armed,” the top US diplomat told CBS News during a visit to Morocco, as she noted that Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has expressed support for the Syrian rebels.
“Are we supporting Al-Qaeda in Syria?” she said. “Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?”
Clinton said she remains “incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something” about the crackdown that rights groups say has left more than 7,600 people dead.
“Sometimes, overturning brutal regimes takes time and costs lives. I wish it weren’t so,” she said.
“This is not Libya, where you had a base of operations in Benghazi, where you had people who were representing the entire opposition” to Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi, whose regime fell last year.
Clinton said US officials have met some leaders of the Syrian National Council, but they are not inside Syria proper.
“You’re not going to bring tanks over the borders of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. That’s not going to happen.”
She said she expected some groups would find ways to smuggle in automatic weapons, but delivering them effectively to rebel fronts would be difficult.
While the US and other Western powers have called on Assad to step down, Clinton said the Syrian strongman has “very, very strong friends, if you look at Russia, China and Iran, who are in there determined to keep Assad because he does their bidding, he buys their arms, he sells them oil.”
Moscow and Beijing have vetoed two United Nations resolutions condemning Syria, which is Tehran’s principal ally in the Middle East.
Clinton also appeared to signal to everyday Syrians that it was time to rise up against the regime.
“What about the people in Damascus, what about the people in Aleppo? Don’t they know that their fellow Syrian men, women, and children are being slaughtered by their government? What are they going to do about it? When are they going to start pulling the props out from under this illegitimate regime?”
Perhaps they don’t like their options, knowing they likely stand only to trade one form tyranny for another, and that further chaos and repression are likely to follow Assad’s fall.