A rebel fighter of the Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units has a flower in his Russian-made AK47 Kalashnikov in Aleppo, May 9, 2013.
© AFP
A rebel fighter of the Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units has a flower in his Russian-made AK47 Kalashnikov in Aleppo, May 9, 2013.
Last updated: May 16, 2013
Garret Pustay: US must take the lead in Syria

”It’s hard not to feel upset, dismayed and bewildered at the Obama administration's approach toward Syria”

Banner Icon How much more evidence do you need, Mr. President, that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is a destabilizing force, a threat to peace in the region and ultimately a threat to the interests of the US? asks Garret Pustay.

It’s never a wise decision to allow your emotions get in the way of smart, sound decision making. But it’s hard not to feel upset, dismayed and bewildered at the Obama administrations approach toward Syria.

On April 25 the White House came out and announced, “with varying degrees of confidence” that chemical weapons were used in Syria, mainly the nerve-agent sarin. Our allies and friends including Britain, France and Israel have already suspected that chemical weapons were used but Washington seemed uneasy in confirming their suspicions until only recently.

President Obama has long made the use of, or transfer of, such weapons a so-called ‘red line’ in his approach on whether to get the US more involved in an already complicated and complex conflict.

So in the three weeks since the White House sent a letter to members of Congress which seemed to confirm that chemical weapons were in fact used, what action has the US taken?

We should not be the world’s policeman, but Syria is a direct threat to our national interests

President Obama in a news conference said that "what we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don't know how they were used, when they were used, who used them; we don't have chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened.” Obama added “when I am making decisions about America's national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I've got to make sure I've got the facts."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on May 2 that arming the rebels was an option for the US saying that the US must “rethink all options” but that “it doesn’t mean you do or will use” these options.

In the past few weeks, Israel has seemingly taken the lead on Syria and left Washington behind to watch. At least two Israeli airstrikes were reported on conveys suspected of carrying weapons destined for Hezbollah and on a research facility near Damascus. In all of this, where was American leadership? It is simply leading form behind and allowing its allies to take the lead role, in particular Israel?

What bothered me the most as someone who has watched and analyzed the Syrian conflict for more than two years is my government’s hands-off approach with a conflict that is increasingly destabilizing the region. Yes, the US has provided millions dollars of humanitarian aid, provided non-lethal assistance to the rebels and has supported the SNC and its leaders Moaz al-Khatib and Ghassan Hitto, at least up to a certain point. 

However it has repeatedly rejected calls to arm the rebels, to provide any lethal aid to the FSA or other vetted, moderate rebels and has ignored increasing calls for establishing a no-fly zone.

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President Obama has argued that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of such weapons would be a game changer for him. Now is the time for the US to provide the leadership that no other country in the world can deliver. 

It was a start to hear Secretary Hagel say that the US is rethinking its stance on whether or not to arm the rebels. But talk is cheap when a conflict has been raging on for more than two years and over 90,000 have died while much of the international community has sat by and watched.

We all know that the rebels have been begging the international community, especially Washington, for arms to help defeat Assad and to isolate the radical elements of the anti-Assad crowd, mainly the al-Nusra front. Mr. President, I’m sure you know more than anyone that as with anything, any decision you make carries risk. Getting involved in Syria is certainly no exception. But we must do something.

In the past few weeks, President Obama has warned against "rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence.” That is completely understandable considering the rationale for going to Iraq was based on faulty intelligence and the resulting quagmire that the country became for Washington. However, how much more evidence do you need, Mr. President that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is a destabilizing force, a threat to peace in the region and ultimately a threat to the interests of the US?

We need leadership on this crisis. How many more have to die before we act? Chemical weapons should not be the only 'red line' for the Untied States in deciding to act. With 1.4 million refuges, many more displaced internally and a increasing threat to our allies in the region, the US must step up to plate and provide the leadership that we have been known for in the past.  If we don’t, our credibility as a nation and as a leader on the international stage will continue to deteriorate let alone the message it will send to pariahs like Iran and North Korea.

We are not, and should not be, the world’s policeman but Syria is a direct threat to our national interests and we should act now before one more innocent life is lost or worse yet there is another incident of a chemical weapons attack. 

It’s hard not to allow emotions get in the way of this considering that at least 90,000 have died and the millions of refuges that this conflict has created but we can and must provide a strategy going forward. Sit back and do nothing because of fear and the risk associated with getting involved is no strategy this country, my government, should follow.

Emotions are running high but sound, decisive leadership is what the US must provide at this crucial juncture. The world and millions of Syrians are certainly counting on it.

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