Jonah Goldberg fantasized a few days ago about a “permanent global clubhouse for democracies based on shared principles,” i.e. a UN for the good guys. Thanks to Russia’s and China’s veto power on the Security Council, it looks like he might get it:
The State Department said Thursday that its top Mideast envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, has been dispatched to Morocco, France and Bahrain to help put the “friends” meeting together and determine the group’s membership and mandate…
France and Turkey, both of which have historic and commercial interests in Syria, have offered to host the meeting. Morocco, which sponsored the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for Assad to step down, is also a candidate.
Nuland said the group would look at three “tracks” — economic sanctions, support for a democratic transition and “humanitarian support” for the people of Syria…
Some lawmakers have suggested the U.S. consider military aid for the rebels in Syria, though administration officials have pushed back on that approach. The Times of London quoted one source saying U.S. officials nevertheless were looking at contingency plans to give military aid to the opposition.
The State Department claimed today that some of Syria’s elites are headed for the lifeboats, but whether that’s true or just propaganda to make Assad think he should bail too before his support crumbles beneath him, who knows. On the flip side, Syrian dissidents claim that the head of Iran’s Quds Force has been to Damascus and is helping Assad to train snipers and militias. Maybe that’s propaganda too to further delegitimize Assad and entice the west into turning Syria into a proxy war with Tehran, but note that western diplomats tell the Telegraph they believe there may be as many as a few thousand Iranian troops inside the country assisting with the regime’s assault on rebels. No reason to doubt that the Quds Force has a presence there, in that case. The question is, does Iran ramping up in Syria make the case for intervention stronger or weaker? The more ruthless and well armed the rebels’ enemies are, the more urgent their need for weapons. But the more aid the west provides, the more western prestige will be at stake as Iran and Assad clamp down tighter. The rebels’ loss will be our loss too. How far are you willing to go to stave it off?
The west and Iran aren’t the only players either. Within the past hour, McClatchy dropped this bombshell on the intervention calculus:
The Iraqi branch of al Qaida, seeking to exploit the bloody turmoil in Syria to reassert its potency, carried out two recent bombings in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and likely was behind suicide bombings Friday that killed at least 28 people in the largest city, Aleppo, U.S. officials told McClatchy.
The officials cited U.S. intelligence reports on the incidents, which appear to verify Syrian President Bashar Assad’s charges of al Qaida involvement in the 11-month uprising against his rule. The Syrian opposition has claimed that Assad’s regime, which has responded with massive force against the uprising, staged the bombings to discredit the pro-democracy movement calling for his ouster.
The international terrorist network’s presence in Syria also raises the possibility that Islamic extremists will try to hijack the uprising, which would seriously complicate efforts by the United States and its European and Arab partners to force Assad’s regime from power.
Again, not only is it hard to know if this is propaganda, it’s hard to tell whether it’s propaganda for or against intervention. If Al Qaeda in Iraq is afoot in Syria, the U.S. should naturally want to establish a presence there to stamp it out before it sets up a base. But if we end up arming the opposition or otherwise weakening Assad, arguably we’re making it easier for AQI to set up shop, not harder. What’s a do-gooding humanitarian interventionist to do?
Rather than have me blather at you, take 10 minutes to read some thoughtful pieces pro and con on the threshold question of sending weapons to the rebels. In favor: Daniel Drezner and Jackson Diehl. Opposed: Marc Lynch and Red State’s Jeff Emanuel. I find Lynch’s piece the most persuasive right now, but that might change if the rebels can push Assad out of Homs or some other city and set up a base of their own, a la the Libyan rebels in Benghazi. That would be something to build on.