January 31st, 2012
12:18 PM ET

Should the U.S. support the Free Syrian Army?

Editor's Note: Andrew J. Tabler is the Next Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.

By Andrew J. Tabler – Special to CNN

Last weekend’s sharp spike in death tolls in Syria has come hand in hand with the rise of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - opposition members who believe armed struggle is the most efficient way of deposing the Assad regime.

Over the past two weeks, as Arab League monitors visited Syria, the FSA has expanded the scope and scale of their operation, wresting control of towns - and for a time neighborhoods of Damascus - from the Assad regime.

While the FSA is largely a franchise rather than a centrally commanded militia, it now represents a major force within the Syrian opposition that Washington is struggling to reckon with.

The FSA emerged last summer as a collection of Syrian military defectors who fled to Turkey. Once dismissed as a mere Internet phenomena, the FSA and other domestically based groups of armed defectors joined forces to carry out attacks against regime forces throughout the country.

Anti-regime protestors braving live fire have earned the respect and diplomatic support of the international community, but not a military intervention akin to Libya. Without a light at the end of the protest tunnel, local Syrians (many with military backgrounds) calling themselves the FSA began picking up arms to defend protesters from regime fire.

While many operate outside of a central command, this loose association of armed oppositionists, with weapons smuggled over from neighboring Lebanon (as well as Turkey and Iraq) or weapons seized from Assad regime depots, have captured and held the border town of Zabadani and (until the Assad regime moved in full force) neighborhoods on the outskirts of Damascus and into the Ghouta in the countryside of the Syrian capital. The FSA is active in Idlib, Homs and Dera governorates, amongst others.

The question Washington is now wrestling with is: What to do with the FSA?

For months, U.S. policy has been to support non-violent means of opposing the Assad regime as, quite rightly, the opposition has much more political leverage keeping the high moral ground and the regime has the armed opposition heavily outgunned. Nevertheless, the international community’s inability thus far to get Assad to stop shooting his way out of the crisis, as well as its reticence to intervene on the ground like Libya, means that more and more Syrians are looking to the FSA not as an alternative to the protest movement, but rather as a way to support and overall revolutionary effort.

Will Washington follow suit? What kinds of assistance can and should the United States and its allies provide the FSA as part of an overall strategy of helping to achieve President Obama’s goal outlined last August to get Assad “to step aside”? Or should Washington subcontract that such support to regional allies who may share our short term goal of changing the Assad regime, but differ significantly on what political forces should rule a post Assad Syria? What do you think?

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Andrew Tabler.

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Topics: Military • Syria

soundoff (146 Responses)
  1. Noone

    All of you are a bunch clueless idiot.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  2. Blessed Geek

    It is time for the world to understand that SALVATION belongs only to true BELIEVERS.

    And True Believers are those who believe in themselves, in the Freedom of Human Kind.

    And that our Almighty Creator prefers to award salvation to those who believe in themselves and the future of the human race rather than those who profess to believe in Him.

    But yet that Salvation is not awarded nor given by Him, but by those who are prepared to live in Unity as brothers and sisters to create that Salvation for themselves.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Reply
  3. The Worm

    The US should stay out of it., Let the Arabs/Muslims kill each other the world will be a better place.

    January 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  4. mr. Magoooooooooo

    No fly zone and drop food.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  5. Wastrel

    Arming the enemy is part of our foreign policy. We do it to make money for our military industries, without regard for the lives and money it will cost our citizens later. In short, the question "Should Washington arm the Syrians?" is a stupid one; just asking it means that it will be done, if history is any guide, and the bad consequences will not fall on the people making the decision.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Reply
    • dale

      What you say is sadly true. Peace is not the goal; profits are. This is textbook fascism: state power serves corporate interests and vice versa. Without the stealth stimulus of the war economy, the whole economy would fall apart.

      Former Pres Lula of Brazil says that when Bush visited him, before 9/11, Bush told him: " War is the way to grow the economy." Eisenhower warned us of the Military/Industrial complex and pre-emptive wars, but few are listening to the last reasonable Republican.

      Without war, capitalism would collapse. Defense spending (1.2 trillion a yr, all told) is the permanent bubble which requires permanent war. This is by design.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:51 am | Reply
    • dale

      What you say is sadly true. Peace is not the goal; profits are. This is textbook fascism: state power serves corporate interests and vice versa. Without the stealth stimulus of the war economy, the whole economy would fall apart.

      Former Pres Lula of Brazil says that when Bush visited him, before 9/11, Bush told him: " War is the way to grow the economy." Eisenhower warned us of the Military/Industrial complex and pre-emptive wars, but few are listening to the last reasonable Republican.

      Without war, capitalism would collapse. Defense spending (1.2 trillion a yr, all told) is the permanent bubble which requires permanent war. This is by design. What else is required is a brainwashed public.

      February 8, 2012 at 2:52 am | Reply
  6. RCDC

    Prayers. Don't send any troops. It may escalate. It's a civil war.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  7. kmac

    I think this piece is too late. Israel and US are doing it now.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  8. idontthinkso

    Sure (not) go ahead and give them weapons. Ten twenty years (or sooner) down the road they will be using them against us!

    January 31, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Reply
  9. fsmgroupie

    just build more drones - we're going to need them for a few more years

    January 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  10. Taskmaster

    Hell no we should not arm the syrians at the expense of our tax payers.They started a civil war on their own let them finish on their own.Look at Libya .Nothing has changed except who's in charge and the U.S. deeper in debt.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  11. Chris

    And history repeats itself. Over, and over again. Maybe we'll learn some day. Remember who armed Al-Qaeda? Remember who armed Iraq? Remember who armed Iran? I support freedom, or whatever they seek for the Syrian people, but they need to handle it on their own or with their neighbors.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  12. Pastor Mike Palevo

    WE NEED TO MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS! This mentality of interfering in every other country's affairs is a bad foreign policy. Ron Paul has it right. You may not like some of the things he stands for, but he could turn allot of this garbage government around!

    January 31, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  13. Mike Johnson

    .. get involved ... absolutely not. This is a Syrian issue.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  14. magneticink

    ... how about a few salvos of cruise missiles?

    February 1, 2012 at 12:09 am | Reply
    • Mike Hardman

      Typical US mentality " fire a few cruise missile" problem solved. Hey bright boy that's what caused 9/11 or did you think it was because they did not like your pimply face.

      February 1, 2012 at 2:24 am | Reply
  15. wilson

    Are you crazy let them deal with their on problem are let the arabs handle it.....its their problem not ours........and remember that Obama.......

    February 1, 2012 at 12:10 am | Reply
  16. lmfao

    To answer the headline question: LMFAO, NO

    February 1, 2012 at 1:09 am | Reply
  17. Truth hurts

    US has to stop meddling in other countries affairs. If we continue being the police of the World, we'll be considered a big joke, like we're already. We're spending way to much money try to control the whole Planet. That's why we're in this economy mess. The World hates us. Like it or not it's the fact! We don't have enough to eat here and yet we feed dictators in Ethiopia, latin America countries and middle east nations. The World is getting sick of us. Do this, do that. It has been our mantra. The World is catching up on us. We better change the way we look to the World and specially our f***** foreign policy, or this country will be worse than it's now. It doesn't matter if Obama, Romney, Newt or anybody else will be the President. Off course unless the President will be Ron Paul, which will never happen. Stop using the terms, for our national security, terrorism, national interest and so forth.....these are bs terms used by the old republican and democratic parties who are a joke and stuck in the 19th century. Us stay the f*** out of people business and you will do alright. That's the right way and the only way!

    February 1, 2012 at 1:31 am | Reply
  18. Mike Hardman

    There are two things the US did right, fought in both World Wars and won. My advise to all US citizens is to tell your Government to stay out of all future conflicts. If this is not done my prediction is that Israel will strike Iran, the US will assist, Israel will get a hiding of note and the US will get a bloody nose. China will threaten the US financially and military and Russia will back China. The US will be forced to sort out the Palistine / Israeli problem

    February 1, 2012 at 2:20 am | Reply
  19. Ronald Mcloughlin

    As an 81 y/o American who has lived or been effected by all of America's wars since the 20th century, my mom's boyfriend was gassed in WWI, my older brother was ripped from me by WW II & I lived thru the Korean War, which was called a police action, as an enlistee from 1948-1952. Then there was Vietnam (1965-1975) & then the Gulf War (1991) & then Afghanistan (2001-to the present) & then Iraq (2003-2010), I mean it, isnt it time to give diplomacy a chance? We are dead tired of war or shud be. In short, stay the hell out of Syria. In fact, get out of the Middle East or we'll be sorry.

    February 1, 2012 at 2:29 am | Reply
  20. hiruu

    Uhhmmm...wouldn't that be AGAINST international law, and would be our sponsoring of state terrorism. Some of hte stupid sh!t that people says is just incredible!

    February 1, 2012 at 3:34 am | Reply
  21. johnny

    This one lesson USA must have learned by now is –

    the people in Middle East, even the Arab spring ones, will always be treating America as the great Satan, the enemy, the destroyer etc etc..

    Dont waster your money America, save it for your own country.

    February 1, 2012 at 3:42 am | Reply
  22. 28mAmerican

    Should the us arm syrians was the question right?
    Should iran arm OCW ?
    The answer is the same....

    February 1, 2012 at 4:39 am | Reply
  23. Pesah

    Arm the FSA IMMEDIATELY !!

    February 1, 2012 at 4:56 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      Give them some nukes, biological weapons – whatever! And do it fast, before they turned on us!

      February 1, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Reply
  24. Don

    Yes we should. Americans are suppose to help those who wish to enfranchise themselves and embrace some relative form of democracy. It is simply the right thing to do.

    February 1, 2012 at 6:52 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      Hi Don! Are you sure you are an American? You write with very strong accent so to say. You grammar does not sound anything like Texas to me.

      February 1, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  25. 678

    No, but we should support and help nations in that region that will take action against Syria's regime. We also should support any efforts to topple the regime in Iran, which is the greatest cancer in the mid-east.

    February 1, 2012 at 6:56 am | Reply
  26. IndiaRocks

    It won't be anything new if they did. The US government is the world's greatest terrorist organization supporting terrorists around the world.

    February 1, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
  27. bobnC

    Let try something new; Let mind our own business, this is not our fight. We can police the world, let the other Arab countries help them.

    February 1, 2012 at 8:46 am | Reply
  28. grenadaboy

    Israel will arm the FSA and find a way to kill Assad.

    February 1, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
  29. ATTACK RUSSIAN INTEREST NOW

    ACTUALLY ISRAEL LIKE ASSD, HE HELP ISRAEL AND GAVE THEM THE GOLAN HIGHTS AND IS WORKING WITH THEM UNDER THE TABLE TO SECURE HIS CHIAR.
    IRAN=SYRIA=I= TERRORISTS. THATS WHY ISRAEL AND USA DID NOT HELP THE OPPOSITION TO GET RED OF THUG LIKE ASSAD. THE MIDDLEAST MUST START ATTACKING RUSSIAN INTEREST ANY WHERE IN THE WORLD AND SPECIALLY IN MIDDLEAST, ALL THE EMBASIES MUST BE THE TARGET AS RUSSIA HELPING TERRORIST HIZBOALLAH AND SYRIAN SO THEY ARE IN WAR WITH THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, SO THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS CAN BRING THE WAR BACK TO MOSCO AND HIT THEM HARD THEN THEY CAN LISTEN

    February 1, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
  30. ATTACK RUSSIAN INTEREST NOW

    STATE TERROR HAS BEEN PRACTICED BY RUSSIA , CHINA , HIZBOALLAH, IRAN EVERY DAY. THOSE ARE TERRORISTS WE MUST NOT STAND STILL AND LET HITLER WIN AGAIN THOSE FASHIST COMMUNIST REGIEM CANT UNDERSTAND PEACE AND THEY ONLY LISTEN TO THE LANGUAGE OF GUNS. HIT THEM HARD , SANCTION RUSSIA IF THEY HELP TERRORISTS. THOSE MONKEYS AND THE SON OF DOGS ARE AFTER POWER, OIL AND MONEY, WHILE THE ARABS AFTER WOMEN MONEY AND STAYING IN POWER AS LONG AS THEY CAN.

    February 1, 2012 at 9:53 am | Reply
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