As Syrian government forces bombard Homs and other cities with merciless brutality, day after day, calls for arming the opposition are becoming louder. But there is a powerful case for caution, and for thinking twice before good intentions pave the road to even worse hell in Syria.
Most importantly, potential armourers of the opposition need to find answers to a number of key questions. The following exchange at a hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee in mid-February helps explain what is at stake.
Question: “What is the nature of the Syrian opposition? Who are they? How much of this is domestic? How much of it is foreign? What is the regional dynamic? Is al Qaeda involved?”
Answer: “The Free Syrian Army … is not unified. There’s an internal feud about who’s going to lead it. Complicating this … are neighborhood dynamics. We believe that al Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria.”
The question came from Jim Webb, a Democratic Senator with a military background. The answer was from America’s spy chief, James Clapper, who added that extremists had infiltrated Syria’s motley opposition groups which, in many cases, may not be aware of the infiltration.