In their quest for American backing, supporters of the Syrian rebels have resorted to a tried-and-true tactic of beltway politics: lobbying.
Supporters of the Free Syrian Army have established an outreach office here for a lobbying effort that is likely to feed the Obama administration’s discussions on whether to arm the group or more directly intervene in the Syrian conflict.
The organization, called the Syrian Support Group, says it will seek backing from Congress, the White House and relevant federal agencies to deliver arms and other military goods to help in the group’s fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The American policymakers that are being targeted by the Syrian Support Group are have a tough choice to make. If America will not support the Sunni rebels, they may look for more like minded alternatives. Namely, they will look even more to the Saudis, who are already financing the Free Syria Army and who, one speculates groundlessly, may be bankrolling the current lobbying effort. Greater dependency on the Saudis is unlikely to strengthen the democratic and tolerant wing of the FSA.
If the US does decide to help the rebels, the two likely outcomes of its involvement are just as undesirable. The Assad government is openly backed by the likes of Iran and Russia. It also enjoys widespread support among Christians and Alawites, who see it as a bulwark against Iraq-style sectarian killings if the Sunnis gain control. If Assad manages to hold on and crush the rebellion, America’s prestige would take a massive hit.
But if a rebel loss would mean a defeat, a rebel win might be worse. Mass murder, chaos, radicalism, ethnic and religious violence: that could well be Syria’s future if the rebels ultimately win a bloody and polarizing civil war.
The old Pottery Barn Rule of “you break it, you buy it” applies perfectly to this situation. The more visible America’s support is for the Syrian rebels, the more we are responsible for the eventual outcome. Right now, there are no plausible positive outcomes, and if Syria does break, we definitely do not want to own it.
Sadly, the best case outcome, a rapid rebel victory followed by the swift construction of a moderate and tolerant Syrian government, is probably beyond reach. This really is one of those situations in life where all the options are bad — but you still have to choose.