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Syria Needs U.S. Diplomacy, Not Weapons

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Like many, I am deeply disturbed about the current civil war in Syria. The atrocities committed by the Assad regime, including his army, varying militias and groups deserve strong international condemnation. And those fighting his oppression deserve support. However, before we assume a more active role to counter Assad's warfare by rushing to aid a largely unknown insurgency, we must consider the long-term implications and lessons from the not so distant past.

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a measure to arm the Syrian opposition with heavy weapons. While a bipartisan majority on the committee believes the U.S. should intervene in yet another overseas civil war, a bipartisan minority -- myself included -- disagree.

The Assad regime is cruel and corrupt. But many of the groups engaged in the conflict against him do not share our values. Instead, they pose long-term risk to us, and allies like Israel and Turkey. Assad's enemies may very well be America's enemies. The fact is, we do not know. By flooding the region with heavy weapons, we risk inadvertently arming those who ultimately seek to do our nation harm.

Recent history tells a cautionary tale. In the 1980s, the United States supported a rebel insurgency to repel the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The United States supplied weapons, intelligence and training to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Our short-term victory had tragic consequences for the future. Radical members of the insurgency formed the Taliban regime, which gave safe haven to terrorist training camps and provided material support to Osama bin Laden and his fledgling Al Qaeda movement. Through state-sponsored terrorism in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda thrived and perpetrated attacks on the USS Cole and the World Trade Center on 9/11. The aftermath has been more than a decade of war with loss of precious life and treasure. This is history to learn from, not repeat.

Today, the Syrian regime, supported by Russia and Iran, is being challenged by multiple insurgent groups. More questions than answers exist about the makeup of these groups, but what we do know is not re-assuring. They range from former Syrian military to individuals who have simply picked up a rifle to join the fight, to foreigners waging jihad. Their motivations are also conflicting. Some may want a free society, but others are intent on establishing an intolerant theocracy and are allied or sympathetic with Al Qaeda. Not surprisingly, there is significant infighting and no clear leadership.

The Foreign Relations resolution puts us on a dangerous path of supplying chaotic and veiled factions of rebels with heavy arms, including anti-tank missiles, howitzers, mortars, and even anti-aircraft systems. Once this weaponry is released into Syria, the consequences are unpredictable and the risk is great. We chance injecting the region with even more powerful and dangerous weapons than those in use today, consequently worsening the security situation. The biggest danger is that our own weapons could end up in the hands of America's enemies.

The need for answers is clear: Who are we arming? What are the repercussions of providing such weapons? Is the United States setting itself up for yet another bloody, costly overseas conflict?

The horrors in Syria are real, and the pressures to act are great. Instead of charging down a path toward direct American intervention, we should consider all options. A cautionary approach on the part of the Congress and the president is necessary to protect our nation's long-term interests and revive peace negotiations abroad.

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