Heeding our own advice...in Syria

Published on Thursday, 4 July 2013 23:40 - Written by

President Barack Obama is right to call on neighboring nations to stop feeding the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So why isn’t he heeding his own call, when it comes to Syria?

“U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called on states around the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern region to stop fuelling conflict there and implement a peace deal,” Reuters reports.

In February, 11 African nations signed a peace accord and agreed to send a U.N. intervention force.

“But a U.N. experts report seen by Reuters last week said military officers from Rwanda and Congo were fuelling violence in the region by supporting rival groups, despite the U.N.-brokered deal signed in February,” Reuters explains.

That’s unacceptable, Obama said in a news conference in Tanzania.

“The countries surrounding the Congo, they’ve got to make a commitment to stop funding armed groups that are encroaching on territorial integrity and sovereignty of Congo,” Obama said.

That’s solid advice. So why doesn’t it apply to Obama’s plans for intervention in Syria?

The president has announced he intends to send weapons to rebel groups in Syria (there’s some indication we’ve already been training certain groups). He has yet to make a strong case for intervention to the American public. And so far, his statements have raised more questions than they’ve answered.

“President Obama’s stated goal is for Assad to relinquish power, and for Syrians to negotiate a peace among the dictator’s minority Alawite community; the Sunni majority, from which the rebels draw their strength; and the country’s Christians, Kurds, and other minorities,” writes Steven Coll in The New Yorker magazine. “Yet the Administration’s plan to achieve that goal is vague, and there are many unaddressed questions. If a settlement is reached, whose troops will secure it? Diplomacy has so far yielded little progress; if that failure continues, then what? Would Obama ever set a hard deadline for Assad’s departure and back it with force?”

As for humanitarian assistance, the United States is already footing most of the bill to help Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring states such as Jordan and Turkey.

It’s the non-humanitarian assistance that’s troubling.

“The President’s decision to supply guns introduces new risks,” Coll notes. “Syria’s armed opposition is fractious and increasingly sectarian, and it includes groups aligned with Al Qaeda. Arms in wartime trade as easily as silks in a souk, and it must be assumed that any weapons given to approved rebels can find their way to less reliable ones. The C.I.A. provided potent anti-aircraft missiles to Islamist fighters during the Afghan war of the 1980s, and its officers were still hunting down stray missiles years later, lest they be used by terrorists against civilian airliners.”

We simply can’t keep falling into conflicts that don’t involve us. And even if we accept Obama’s contention that we have a duty to intervene — a “Responsibility to Protect” — then sending arms into an armed conflict seems a little counter-productive.

Don’t add fuel to the fire, Obama told Congo’s neighbors. The same thing should go for us.