There is only one way to shift that thinking: Convince the regime and its backers that Assad could lose. To do that, the United States and its allies would have to shift the Syrian military balance — by arming and training certain rebel commanders and units. Washington knows who those commanders are. The CIA had officers on the Turkish border for a year, and they met with many rebel officers from inside Syria.
The risk of heavy weapons going astray could be minimized; a new Syrian Free Army command was organized in December that could be used as a control.
Instead, Kerry’s announcement in Rome has undercut the SOC and the rebel military command structure by leaving Assad free to bomb. Syrian sources close to the Free Syrian Army say Kerry’s offer has spurred a huge wave of anger, along with a stream of bitter jokes.
There’s a slim chance that Kerry’s pledge is only a first step. Britain and France have promised to send night-vision goggles and body armor — still too little, too late, but better than MREs.
Yet much more is required to break the military stalemate. Washington, or its allies, would have to boost the capacity of the Free Syrian Army with training and heavy weapons. Obama would have to play hardball with the Russians, insisting that, if they don’t push harder, we’d help the opposition win.
There’s no sign that Obama is heading in that direction. “You have a president who doesn’t want to own this conflict and is very popular for saying he got us out of the Middle East,” says Shaikh, correctly. “If he doesn’t do more, soon, he won’t be able to shape the situation on the ground.”
Biscuits and Band-Aids won’t persuade Assad he can’t shoot his way out.