Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., have penned a Washington Post op-ed warning that the United States' reluctance to provide assistance to opposition fighters against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces could harm U.S. interests.
"America’s disengagement from this conflict carries growing costs — for the Syrian people and for U.S. interests," Sunday's op-ed read, adding that the United States is "increasingly seen across the Middle East as acquiescing to the continued slaughter of Arab and Muslim civilians."
People resisting the army of President Bashar al-Assad in northern Syria cope with loss and prepare for fighting.
In contrast to Libya, where there is "profound gratitude" after the U.S. intervened on the side of the rebels last year in their struggle to depose longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, "when the Assad regime finally does fall, the Syrian people are likely to feel little goodwill toward the United States," the senators wrote.
Much more than in Libya, moreover, the United States has significant national security interests at stake in Syria. These include preventing the use or transfer of the regime’s massive chemical- and biological-weapons stockpiles — a real and growing danger — and ensuring that al-Qaida and its violent brethren are unable to secure a new foothold in the heart of the Middle East. Our decisions and actions have been woefully insufficient to safeguard these interests and others.
The senators' voices follow those of foreign policy experts, three of whom urged the United States last week to do more to bring the violence in Syria to an end.
Testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Martin Indyk, vice president and director of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution; James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND National Defense Research Institute; and Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, all agreed that the United States should start arming the Syrian opposition under the right conditions.
"At this point, given the direction of the conflict, I think that what we need to do is assess which groups could we and should we arm at what point, and make that decision," Tabler told the senators. "I think that we're actually at that decision given where the conflict is going."
Indyk agreed, but advocated for intervening in a "wise way."
"We need to do it in a way that, first of all, we understand who we're supporting and what their intentions are," he said.
On Monday, Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected to the opposition seeking to overthrow Assad, a spokesman for Hijab said, marking one of the most high-profile desertions from the Damascus government.
Syrian state TV said Hijab had been fired, but an official source in Amman told Reuters that the dismissal followed his defection to neighboring Jordan with his family.
Despite this and other high-profile defections, the senators' op-ed warns that "Bashar al-Assad’s regime is far from finished," and its "indiscriminate violence against civilians, using tanks and artillery, helicopter gunships, militias, snipers and, for the first time, fighter aircraft" will continue.
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