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Arm the Free Syrian Army Now

9:15 AM, Mar 8, 2012 • By DAVID SCHENKER
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Rather than leading from behind and delegating the task of equipping of the FSA to less-discriminating states, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Obama administration should take a lead role in supplying the FSA and mitigate potential leakage of weapons to nihilistic Islamists. At the same time, by providing materiel to these forces in a systematic manner, Washington can help transform these disparate franchise opposition units into a more disciplined and united force tied to a centralized command. Moreover, working closely with the FSA now will establish relationships that can help avoid a Libya scenario—where independent militias continue to run amok—and potentially enable Washington to better shape the post-Assad environment.

Perhaps most importantly as NATO commander Adm. James Stavridis recently pointed out to the Senate Armed Services Committee, providing materiel support to the FSA would hasten the Assad regime’s demise.

While channeling even generous supplies of military materiel to the FSA will not any time soon result in opposition forces marching victorious into Damascus, improved opposition capabilities will demoralize regime forces, fuel more defections, and, over time, degrade the Assad regime. This is not going to be a quick fix, but the longer the status quo persists, the higher the risk that Syria will degenerate to a failed state ripe for al Qaeda inroads and sectarian conflict.

Washington’s Syria policy is not working, at least not fast enough. Assad, not surprisingly, refused to comply with the longstanding U.S.-backed Arab League plan that he voluntarily resign. And the administration’s current strategy of waiting for a coup is more aspirational than policy prescriptive. To be sure, arming the FSA alone will not end the Assad regime. But the combination of this military option and continued diplomatic and economic pressures on the regime stands a far better chance of success than waiting for a silver bullet.

David Schenker is Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

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