Despite the pleas of some onlookers, the Obama administration has resisted sending the most capable anti-aircraft weapons to Syrian rebels or Ukraine. When the pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine shot down a civilian airliner, that restraint looked wise.
Today's Post reports a similar problem in trying to arm Syrian rebels: the need to be sure that only "moderate" fighters get the training and equipment.
The latest deliveries of arms and money are in part the result of improved coordination between the chief partners in the 11-member Friends of Syria alliance, according to U.S. officials and rebels. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the opposition’s biggest backers, have halted their unilateral funding of rebel groups, which was blamed for the unchecked rise of Islamist factions. The countries are now cooperating with the United States and its European allies to ensure that supplies reach only U.S.-approved moderates.
The effort got a big boost in March, when the United States authorized the first deliveries to the rebels of U.S.-made TOW antitank guided missiles, the most advanced weapons yet to be delivered to the battlefield. The missiles have propelled some important gains against government positions in the province of Idlib, and they have also helped the rebels slow the pace of gains by Assad loyalists around Aleppo.
The supplies are, however, being funneled to just eight relatively small groups that have been painstakingly vetted for their adherence to moderate goals. The increase in their support has not been enough to offset the reduction in assistance to some of the bigger groups behind the revolt’s early gains, who are not extremists but are Islamists, according to Noah Bonsey of the International Crisis Group.This report suggests that the U.S. effort will fail because of its limitations. But remember the alternative: if radical Islamists got control of the weapons, the administration would have been blamed even more strongly and U.S. policy would be in even more trouble. The devil is in the details in these activities.