As the Obama administration debates belatedly arming the Syrian opposition, military analysts are arriving at an uncomfortable conclusion: the U.S. can’t hand the rebels guns or rockets and expect them to topple dictator Bashar Assad. In fact, it may never happen.
Yes, the U.S. can provide lots of hardware, from shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to communications systems to armored vehicles. That military gear can prolong the conflict, preventing dictator Bashar Assad from crushing the rebels. It is unlikely to tip the balance of the war toward the rebels so they can decisively overthrow Assad.
Obama is considering a range of weaponry to the rebels, as described in the Washington Post, including surface-to-air missiles. The idea would be to ship them the weapons, bolster their war effort, and watch them topple the blood-soaked dictator — without a deeper U.S. military commitment.
Except that few strategists consider that realistic. Assad has a variety of advantages — an adaptive military estimated at over 50,000; complete air superiority; chemical weapons — that he will retain even if Obama opens a new arms pipeline. Overcoming those advantages means getting, at the least, U.S. and allied airpower involved — a step the Obama administration, and especially the military, want to avoid. Especially since it might involve shooting down Iranian planes, a fateful step.