Obama’s “intellectual” decision-making style and the covert supply of arms to the Free Syrian Army

New details have emerged regarding the flow of weapons from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the Free Syrian Army. These supplies were reportedly cut off by the United States after videos surfaced in March, 2013 showing Islamist fighters in Syria bearing anti-tank weapons that had been provided by Saudia Arabia.

See Liz Sly (Beirut), “Iran emerging as victor in Syrian conflict,” Washington Post, June 11, 2013 (updated June 12 at 8:47 AM).

Sly reported the following:

Iran has provided advice, money and arms to Assad’s regime, but the manpower needed to bolster his forces, flagging after two years of trying to contain the revolt, has come from Hezbollah, which was founded in the 1980s with help from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and has become Lebanon’s leading military and political force.

Supporters of the Syrian opposition contrast the hesitancy of the U.S. administration in offering arms to the outgunned, poorly trained and deeply divided rebels with the commitment that Iran has shown to its Damascus ally.

“Hezbollah is part of the Iranian strategy,” Mohammad Obaid, a Lebanese political analyst with close ties to Hezbollah, said.  “This counts as a victory for the group of Iran, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah against the group backed by the United States.” (emphasis added)

One way in which Saudi Arabia could influence the outcome is by facilitating unchecked supplies of arms to the rebels, analysts say. Although the umbrella Free Syrian Army has received small quantities of weaponry from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the past year, the United States has sought to control the flow, vetting the recipients and restricting the caliber of the weapons provided. (emphasis added)

After videos surfaced in March of Islamist groups wielding antitank weapons funneled across the Jordanian border by Saudi Arabia, the United States imposed a freeze on all further deliveries, putting the rebels at a disadvantage just as Iran, through Hezbollah, was gearing up to rejuvenate the Assad regime’s army with reinforcements, according to rebel leaders (emphasis added).

Sly’s account of the tight control exercised by the U.S. over these covert arms shipments, including even the calibre of weapons being shipped, sounds exactly like the kind of intellectual approach President Obama brings to the table in deciding foreign policy issues.

The reported U.S. cut-off of the covert supply of arms to the Free Syrian Army after March would help explain why the rebels have faltered in recent weeks, and again reveals the hand of an intellectual strategist with no combat or military operations experience.

These revelations suggest the need for much bolder action by the U.S. and its allies, with the kind of urgency that will put weapons in insurgents’ hands now, before they are crushed, while they still have a chance to use them.

Whether the supply of weapons to the insurgents might be sufficient to reverse al-Assad’s current momentum is a separate question.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.