Asked to pick a response to stop the killing of civilians in Syria, just 15 percent in the poll say they favor U.S. military action, and only 11 percent want to provide arms to the opposition.

By comparison, a plurality of respondents — 42 percent — prefer to provide only humanitarian assistance, and 24 percent believe the U.S. shouldn’t take any action.

Perhaps more significantly, those attitudes cut across party lines and almost all demographic groups.

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The shift in administration policy on Syria seems reflective of public opinion. Polls have consistently shown Americans are deeply wary of the United States becoming involved in the fighting in Syria. But they also show that public support for intervention increases sharply under circumstances where it is confirmed that the Assad regime used chemical weapons

According to an average of the three surveys in the PollingReport.com database that asked, 58 percent of adults said they would support military intervention if it were confirmed that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons either on antigovernment forces or on civilians. (It remains to be seen, of course, whether public support for military intervention will actually increase now that such a confirmation has come.)

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U.S. officials said that the determination to send weapons had been made weeks ago and that the chemical weapons finding provided fresh justification to act.

As Syrian government ­forces, with the help of Hezbollah and Iranian militias, began to turn the war in Assad’s favor after rebel gains during the winter, Obama ordered officials in late April to begin planning what weaponry to send and how to deliver it…

Even after Thursday’s announcement, critics in Washington, rebel leaders and even some U.S. allies described the prospect of sending light arms and ammunition as disappointing. The rebels have asked for armor-piercing and anti-aircraft weapons as well as other heavy equipment.

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The United States will supply Syrian rebels with weapons through a CIA-run program, FoxNews confirmed Saturday.

President Obama decided Thursday to supply rebel forces with small arms and ammunition, following confirmation that the regime of Syria President Bashar al-Assad’s has been using chemical weapons in the 2-year-long civil war in which at least 90,000 people have been killed.

In addition to supplying the weapons, the CIA will train rebel forces, Fox News also confirmed.

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This move is possibly not too late, but it is certainly too little if the goal is to defeat Assad. The battle for Aleppo, the center of rebel strength, appears to be upon us. If Aleppo falls to the combined forces of Assad and the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, many thousands of people will be killed and the uprising will, in all likelihood, come to an end. Civil unrest will continue, but the back of the rebellion will have been broken.

The rebels haven’t been doing well lately — they’ve been making headlines mainly for YouTube videos showing atrocities committed by some in their ranks, rather than for military victories — and small arms won’t alter the balance. Even if handguns and rifles are all that the rebels would need for victory, delivering such weapons isn’t simply a matter of driving trucks into Aleppo. It will take time to build a proper pipeline to “vetted” rebels, which is to say, rebels who promise not to one day kill Americans with these weapons. Anti-tank weapons may be of help, but at the moment these don’t appear to be forthcoming, and portable surface-to-air missiles will most definitely not be forthcoming.

That’s because we don’t actually know who we’ll be helping.

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[T]here is little likelihood of a political settlement between the two sides, a settlement that would inevitably benefit American adversaries, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran. Due to the nature and magnitude of the support that Iran has leveraged in Syria—weapons as well as troops, its own in addition to Hezbollah’s and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—Assad’s ruling clique in Damascus is effectively little more at this point than an Iranian vassal. A negotiated settlement then would be nothing but a recognition of Iranian sway over Syria, which would spell disaster for the United States and its allies in the region, especially those bordering Syria, like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. However, the Syrian rebels will make an agreement all but impossible.

As Michael Doran explained, a deal between the opposition and the regime “is utterly fanciful.” Assad, Doran wrote, “will never negotiate himself out of a job. Even if he was inclined to do so—and he is not—a deal is a practical impossibility, due to the fractiousness of the opposition. Rebel leaders speak only for their own groups. An agreement by one leader would never be binding on the others. The war will go on no matter what.”

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Last month, the Economist had an illuminating report on the Syrian opposition groups, which concluded that, “As the civil war has dragged on, the rebels, hardened by war and seeing where their bread is buttered, have become more Islamist and extreme.” An accompanying helpful chart breaks down the three main fronts of the opposition (which represent alliances of various rebel fighting groups) and then further breaks down the nine key rebel fighting groups. According to the chart, two of the three main fronts are Islamist, as are seven of the nine key rebel fighting groups

It’s hard to believe that the same administration that brought us Benghazi would have such perfect information about which rebel groups in a bloody war-torn country are completely free of Islamist links, let alone have the logistical ability to ensure the weapons don’t end up in the hands of bad actors.

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A key lesson of Afghanistan is to be very clear from the beginning about your objective and mission. In the 1980s the goal was to defeat the Soviets by creating a quagmire for the Red Army like Vietnam was for America. The key planners behind the CIA operation to support the mujahedin, especially CIA Director Bill Casey, wanted to turn Afghanistan into Moscow’s Vietnam. They did.

Then Washington let mission creep develop. The Reagan and Bush administrations were unsure of what they wanted to do next. Some in Washington wanted to overthrow the communist government in Kabul that survived after the Russian withdrawal. Others wanted to support a political process to build a broad-based national unity government. And others wanted to forget Afghanistan and concentrate on forging a new world order with the post-communist leadership in Moscow. The American national-security bureaucracy became almost dysfunctional. In the end chaos ensued in Afghanistan.

What mission does arming the rebels in Syria support? It must be more than stopping Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Is it regime change or bolstering a political process in Geneva? Is it a means to unite the opposition and purge it of the al Nusra front, al Qaeda’s arm in Syria? Is it to defeat Iran and Hezbollah and bring regime change beyond Syria? We have yet to hear the answers to these questions.

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If Washington endorses the goal of bleeding Iran and its allies through proxy warfare, a whole range of more interventionist policies logically follow. The model here would presumably be the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan — a long-term insurgency coordinated through neighboring countries, fueled by Gulf money, and popularized by Islamist and sectarian propaganda.

“Success” in this strategy would be defined by the damage inflicted on Iran and its allies — and not by reducing the civilian body count, producing a more stable and peaceful Syria, or marginalizing the more extreme jihadists. Ending the war would not be a particular priority, unless it involved Assad’s total military defeat. The increased violence, refugee flows, and regionalization of conflict would likely increase the pressure on neighboring states such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Iraq. It would also likely increase sectarianism, as harping on Sunni-Shiite divisions is a key part of the Arab Gulf’s political effort to mobilize support for the Syrian opposition (and to intimidate local Shiite populations, naturally). And the war zone would continue to be fertile ground for al Qaeda’s jihad, no matter how many arms were sent to its “moderate” rivals in the opposition.

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“In a sense, Obama owns Syria now,” says Joshua Landis, a highly regarded Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “I presume he’ll try to go in toe by toe.… But he has to decide what his objectives are, which he hasn’t. Does he want to provide just enough arms to keep the status quo and divide Syria in two? Does he want to give them enough to take Damascus and drive the Alawites [President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling sect] into the mountains? Does he want he want to see them take over the entire country?”…

Earlier this year, the CIA concluded that arming the rebels with small-scale weapons—what is likely now being considered—could not tip the balance of the conflict. U.S. and Israeli officials still fear that delivering anything larger or more lethal, such as antitank or surface-to-air missiles, could be used on U.S., Israeli, or commercial targets if they fell into terrorist hands. Chris Dougherty, an expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, says the “ideal” weapons to arm the Syrian opposition groups—such as man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) that could counter the Syrian Air Force’s control of the skies, antitank guided munitions such as the FGM-148 Javelin, and GPS- or laser-guided mortar rounds—are also the weapons that “have the most potential for blowback.”

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“Things are happening behind the scenes,” says one Israeli official. “Things are really happening.”…

Behind the scenes, … Israeli and U.S. military officials are coordinating how to target and destroy Assad’s arsenal of unconventional weapons under assorted scenarios, Israeli military and intelligence officials tell TIME. One scenario would be the sudden removal of Assad from the scene, be it by flight, death or if he simply disappears. That would prompt the allies to launch operations on the estimated 18 depots and other sites where WMDs are stored, the officials said. Search and destroy operations would also be launched if the weapons appeared to be about to fall into the hands of the rebels, which include Islamist extremists aligned with al-Qaeda.

The Israeli officials emphasized that it had not been decided whether both Israeli and U.S. forces would act, or who would do what. But the U.S. plans called for deploying forces on the ground as well as waves of airstrikes, to assure that the chemical and biological components are neutralized, according to the Israeli officials.

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“You can fully expect that the president will be heard on these issues repeatedly in coming days,” Rhodes said, previewing the gathering of international leaders.

But critics are questioning why the president himself isn’t providing a clearer picture of the administration’s response to Syria, a decision Obama has toiled over for months.

“The American people need to hear directly from the president on this,” a GOP Senate aide told The Washington Examiner. “Why isn’t he the one outlining the White House’s response?”

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“Militarily, where is our commander in chief? We’re talking now more new interventions. I say until we know what we’re doing, until we have a commander and chief who knows what he’s doing, well, let these radical Islamic countries who aren’t even respecting basic human rights, where both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red line, ‘Allah Akbar,’ I say until we have someone who knows what they’re doing, I say let Allah sort it out,” Palin said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference.

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“It all seems to me rather sporadic, chaotic, unstructured,” he charged. “I don’t see any real strategic guidance to what we’re doing. I see a lot of rhetoric, a lot of emotion, a lot of propaganda, in fact.”

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