America’s chief military officer, head of the chiefs of staff, repeated a familiar refrain on Sunday. It is not yet time to arm the Syrian opposition, he said. That opposition is too divided, and can not yet be trusted to assure protection for Alawite, Christian, and other minorities in Syria.
It is becoming clear that fear of another Islamist government in the region — along with those emerging in Tunisia and Egypt — is prompting outsiders to stay their hands.
Yet have we learned nothing? Tolerating an illegitimate government that its people detest buys a bit of time; then when the tyrant falls those who did not act against him have little or no leverage or support in the events that follow (as the U.S. is learning with its current pro-democracy groups being held for trial in Egypt).
The brave Syrians who demonstrated in Damascus on Friday, nearly at the gates of Assad’s palace, are showing the world that despite the massacre of innocents, indeed because of it, they are not giving up, not losing hope.
At this point, one can no longer blame Assad for doing everything he can to cling to power — it is what dictators do, and expecting him to become a reformer or compromiser now is ludicrous. Having condemned the Assad regime in the clearest terms, and committed itself to act to prevent genocides and mass atrocities, the U.S. needs to take some actions to show its words are not empty.
Even if the actions fall short of arming the opposition — perhaps persuading Turkey to establish a safe zone for refugees and that would serve as a base for the opposition; recognizing a Syrian opposition to give them the leverage to unite the various opposition groups; or funneling money to opposition groups to help them procure supplies and weapons; even insisting on a humanitarian mission to deliver medical supplies to Homs — there are things that can visibly be done to give hope to the opposition.