Meddling in Syria: Bad When Iran Does It, Honorable When We Do It

Headlines are awash today with the breaking news that Iran is continuing to send arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite UN sanctions prohibiting such transfers.

Forget the usual counter-narrative double standard about how the U.S. supports its own brutal dictators and yet we never hear about that in the mainstream media. No, I do that enough. There is a much more direct contradiction here.

The Obama administration is also sending arms into Syria, only they are being sent to an unorganized, unreliable, unaccountable group of rebel fighters, at least some of whom have ties to “al-Qaeda.” The UN Security Council has not specifically sanctioned such activity as they have arms sales to the Syrian regime, but a resolution was vetoed in February that would have allowed such aid to the rebels and the UN envoy to Syria Kofi Annan explicitly warned against Western intervention on behalf of the rebels because, he said, it would make the conflict much worse.

I’ve been arguing for months that all of the meddling in Syria – the U.S., Britain, France, the Gulf states, Russia, Iran – is one of the central forces prolonging the conflict.

The Iranians sending arms to the Syrian regime is rightly pointed out as a reckless policy which is probably helping to worsen the humanitarian suffering in the country. But the U.S. is being equally reckless. Numerous experts have spoken out against aiding the rebels. Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations has argued such aid could get into the hands of extremists. George Washington University professor and Middle East expert Marc Lynch has argued that “arming the Syrian opposition, would likely spread the violence and increase the numbers of Syrian dead without increasing the likelihood of regime collapse.” Also, as we saw in Libya, “fighting groups will rise in political power, while those who have advocated nonviolence or who advance political strategies will be marginalized.” The potential for this aid to the opposition – direct, indirect, lethal, and non-lethal – to  escalate the violence and exacerbate the suffering is very, very high. Yet the headlines say Iran is “flouting” international norms in a madcap scheme to militarize the conflict.

The fact that the Obama administration refused to come out and announce that we would be sending arms, directly or indirectly, to Syrian rebels speaks for itself. If this were a constructive policy, why would the administration have kept it so quiet and why would they be doing it through various unsavory Sunni dictatorships in the Persian Gulf who have themselves employed systematic repression to quell pro-reform protests?