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Wednesday, August 15, 2012 

These people are insane.

Bartle Breese Bull in the New York Times knows exactly what the Syrian rebels need to bring down Assad:

Only a shift in military momentum will end such talk. The balance of power that currently favors Mr. Assad could easily be overturned. Providing the rebels with as few as 500 Stinger missiles and 1,000 tank-busting R.P.G.-7’s could potentially cut the conflict’s length in half. And grounding Mr. Assad’s air force, keeping his tanks off the roads, and neutralizing his command-and-control would be likely to bring him down within a couple of months.

Well yes, it's certainly possible such weaponry could tip the balance in the FSA's favour. We could though go the whole hog and hand over a couple of tactical nuclear missiles, the result being the vaporisation of Damascus and instant victory for the rebels! Any concerns that the rebels might then, oh, point one in the general direction of Israel are unfounded, as the FSA would be forever in our debt.

Believe it or not, Bartle Breese Bull went through seven journalistic tours of Iraq, and yet that experience hasn't ingrained in him the lesson that leaving vast stockpiles of weapons and explosives lying around, as Saddam helpfully did, or worse yet, actively giving exactly "500 Stinger missiles" to insurgents isn't the best idea in the world. Not just to pick on Bull, as our very own armchair warrior Malcolm Rifkind is saying much the same. Marc Lynch makes the case for not arming the rebels extremely powerfully:

Nor should the U.S. be joining the dangerous game of arming the insurgency, which seems to be getting plenty of weapons from other sources. All of the risks of the proliferation of weapons into a fragmented insurgency of uncertain identity and aspirations, so blithely dismissed by the op-ed hawks, remain as intense as ever. There are still vanishingly few, if any, historical examples of such a strategy actually leading to a rapid resolution of a civil conflict, and all too many examples of it making conflicts longer and bloodier. Nor is it likely that providing weapons will provide the U.S. with great influence over the groups they are. I see no reason to believe that armed groups will stay bought, or stay loyal, just because they were given weapons, or that the U.S. would be able to credibly threaten to cut off the flow of weapons if groups deemed essential to the battle used them in undesirable ways. As a general rule of thumb if you really think that a group might join al-Qaeda if you don't give them guns, you'd best not give them guns. At this point, the flow of weapons may be as unstoppable as the descent into protracted insurgency and civil war, but that doesn't mean that the U.S. should heedlessly throw more gasoline on the fire. At the most, it should continue its efforts to help shape some form of coherent political and strategic control over those newly armed groups.

If this wasn't enough, then today's report by the UN, while accusing the Assad government of committing multiple war crimes, also points out that the rebels have carried out "murder, torture and extra-judicial killings", although not of the "same gravity, frequency and scale" as the regime. War crimes though are war crimes, regardless of who carries them out and how often. We provide plenty of aid and weaponry to distinctly dodgy governments, but handing over aid, even "non-military aid" to groups we know little about who are accused of carrying out atrocities is something we really shouldn't be doing.

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