Juan Cole, considered one of the best-informed and most thoughtful commentators on matters involving the Middle East, has this to say, in part, about arming Syrian rebels:
Former president Bill Clinton criticized President Obama on Thursday for his inaction in regard to Syria. This step seems extraordinary and surely has something to do with positioning Hillary Clinton to run as a more hawkish New Democrat against anyone in the Obama circle in 2016. ...
.... Nobody remembers Clinton’s paralysis in Algeria, contrary to what he is now predicting about Obama and Syria. This is because if you avoid a quagmire as president, no one holds that against you.
... Russian support appears to have increased in kind and quality, and Iran is playing the Shiite card. If someone doesn’t intervene soon on the rebel side, Washington hawks realize, the war might soon be over and the pro-Iranian regime will survive (just as Algeria’s did).
Obama seems to be attempting to find a face-saving way of getting a little involved but not too much, by sending light weaponry (which of course is not what the rebels need).
Clinton compared what the US could do in Syria to Ronald Reagan’s effort against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But that covert operation of giving billions of dollars and high-tech weaponry to Afghan jihadis was a huge catastrophe, contributing to the creation and rise of al-Qaeda and setting the background for the emergence of the Taliban. It surely would have been far preferable to let the Soviets try to build a socialist state in Afghanistan, as they tried in Uzbekistan. The whole thing would have fallen apart in 1991 anyway. (There is no truth to the notion that the Afghanistan war bled the Soviet Union or contributed to its collapse. Soviet military spending was flat in the 1980s). The Reagan jihad destabilized both Afghanistan and Pakistan and left us with a long term terrorism problem. We let the Soviets alone in Kazakhstan, and we never worry about today’s Kazakhstan.It's simply amazing to me that, after our experiences with Middle Eastern countries abroil with eons-old ethnic hatreds, and that of others, that anyone can think such intervention in a civil war there has a chance of working out well for us. Well, of course John McCain, Lindsey Graham, idiot publicity hounds with serious personal issues), and various unrepentant neocon warmongers, along with the whole coterie of right-wing screamers do. But Barack Obama? Sensible resistance notwithstanding. And Clinton?
You never, ever want to encourage the rise of private militias and flood a country with high- powered weaponry...
Experience says there's little chance of this ending as we'd like it to. I hope events prove me wrong; but, despite taunts and jeers and name-calling from the right (and some from the left), I think Obama was right when his instincts (and facts) told him to stay out. He could have stood up and said so. But he didn't.
(This guy has a point, too.)