WASHINGTON -- Syrian opposition leaders say there’s just one way to interpret the U.S. stalling on promised military aid at a time when rebels are losing ground to forces loyal to President Bashar Assad: Goodbye, and good luck.
Congressional intelligence committees have signed off on a proposal that the Obama administration made more than a month ago to have the CIA funnel unspecified arms and training to rebels aligned with the moderate Supreme Military Council, led by a defected Syrian general, Salim Idriss. But other developments indicate little U.S. enthusiasm for delving much deeper into the chaotic Syrian civil war, in which both sides are relying on military support from organizations the U.S. has designated as terrorists.
“The longer the international community takes to do something, the crisis and the extremism and the chaos on the ground intensifies,” said Mariam Jalabi, a spokeswoman for the visiting Syrian leaders. “We feel the international community pulling its hand out says, ‘You’re on your own.’”
Senior leaders of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the group the United States has recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, traveled to New York for meetings Thursday with United Nations officials. But they won’t be stopping in Washington; they weren’t invited to meet with Obama administration officials here. They finagled a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry only because he was in New York on other business.
Idriss, the U.S.-backed rebel leader who now refers snidely to his “American friends,” chose to skip the visit to New York, in large part because he predicted it would be a waste of time.
“He doesn’t feel like the Americans are as willing to fully support the opposition in ways that would make that trip worth it to him,” said Elizabeth O’Bagy, a researcher of Syrian rebel groups who’s in daily contact with Idriss and who does contract work on State Department programs for Syria.
Syrian Opposition Coalition leader Ahmad Al-Jarba, who led the delegation, said in a statement that the crisis had reached a “desperate” level. He told journalists after the meeting that the opposition delegates asked the U.S. government for a speedy delivery of weapons so that the rebels, already being routed from some strategic areas, can better face the government’s counteroffensive.
“To deny us the right to self-defense is to risk that the regime will survive,” Al-Jarba told reporters in New York. “Thousands will be executed, the repression will continue without end.”
The State Department release on the meeting made no mention of weapons, saying only that “they agreed that a political solution is the best path forward.”
There is little appetite among Americans for greater U.S. entanglement in Syria. A Gallup Poll last month showed 54 percent of Americans opposed to the Obama administration’s plan to provide aid to the rebels. U.S. diplomats fume about the inability of opposition figures to agree on anything. Earlier this week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress in a letter that U.S. military intervention would be costly, might not end the violence and might even install a government that’s hostile to U.S. interests.