The civil war in Syria that has been going on for about 2 years is the latest example of American foreign policy shortsightedness. While President Bashar Assad is apparently a brutal dictator, this alone should not be reason enough for the U.S. to arm the rebels. This is because the rebels are mostly extremist Islamists including “Syria’s rebel al-Nusra Front, one of the most effective rebel forces battling [Assad’s] troops, [which] formally pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri” last week, according to a NBC news report. Assad was recently interviewed by a Syrian television station, criticizing America’s involvement with the rebels, pointing out that arming resistance fighters in the past has not worked out in the long run for America. To be clear I do not believe Assad is good leader, or person; but America should not act as the world police, especially when it is unclear who poses a greater threat to America.
The United States has designated the Nusra Front a terrorist organization and has sought to bolster rival rebel forces to counter the influence of the Islamists, training fighters in neighboring Jordan and allowing arms shipments to them.
There is much agreement that the Nusra Front is the most effective of the anti-Assad forces, yet America’s solution to this is to attempt to dilute the rebel forces with less extremist revolutionaries. Never-the-less, the U.S. must realize that if the Nusra Front are the most organized and effective rebels, they will most likely take control of the Syrian government in the event of rebel victory. Recently a similar situation played out in Libya, where U.S. forces assisted the rebels, helping to defeat Gaddafi’s forces using air strikes and supply drops, only to see unrest in the area lead to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. It is possible that the same rebels who overthrew Gaddafi participated in the storming of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in September 2012. Even if the same rebels were not directly responsible for that deadly attack, the U.S. assisted in creating the vacuum of power which allowed the attack to take place.
And of course there was financial and military “Western support for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s, some of whom later formed the al Qaeda organization which attacked the United States”; the same group that the U.S. is still fighting in Afghanistan today. The point being, that it is possible, and indeed likely based on America’s track record, that the U.S. will end up fighting against extremist forces in Syria if they prove victorious in the civil war. It took over a decade before the U.S. was fighting the people it supported in Afghanistan, so it is dangerous to support extremists such as the Nusra Front who may establish control in Syria, and become hostile to America in the long run. Likewise a more extremist and hostile government has been installed in Egypt, after the U.S. joined calls for the overthrow of former President Mubarak, who had received billions of dollars in foreign aide from the U.S. over the past decades.
The point I am trying to make is not that the former governments were better, but that America should not be picking and choosing the winners and losers in these battles, because in the past the U.S. has been notoriously bad at keeping good relations with the rebels it supports. When the U.S. gets involved in regional scuffles, it accepts some responsibility for what happens, which means the U.S. is still on the hook to provide solutions decades later, when relations sour. The U.S. will be bolstering its involvement in Syria in coming weeks by providing 200 troops to Jordan to help train more rebels who will cross the border into Syria, and to protect Jordan from the possibility of the civil war spilling over its borders. Sometimes it is better to take the attitude, better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t. I’m sure Assad is not a very nice guy, but there is no guarantee that the next leader will be any better, the only difference is that America will share responsibility for the power the new government holds. It is time for America to scale back its role as the world police, and focus on defense, rather than offense.