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Is U.S. action on Syria too little too late?
May 30th, 2014
06:11 PM ET

Is U.S. action on Syria too little too late?

By CNN's Deena Zaru

President Obama reaffirmed Wednesday in his commencement speech at West Point that the United States will not intervene militarily in Syria, stating that there is “no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon.”

Taking boots on the ground off the table, the President supports a collaborative and political approach. He pledged to work with Congress to “ramp up” support for elements of the Syrian opposition who "offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator."

However, congressional approval is needed if weapons and ammunition are to be sent to the Syrian opposition.

The President vied to “step up” efforts to support Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq “as they host refugees, and confront terrorists working across Syrian borders.”

“It is a commitment that is coming at a critical time as Assad continues to indiscriminately bombard the Syrian people– to include the use of chlorine gas– and as the terror threat grows. We view Assad and Al-Qaeda as being two sides of the same coin,” Oubai Shahbandar, Strategic Communications Adviser to The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces told State of the Union in an exclusive statement.

Shahbander added that “The Syrian people and the opposition forces stand committed to work with their friends and to expand strategic cooperation in countering the terrorism enabled by the Assad regime in Syria.”

This comes after President Obama’s meeting earlier this month with the President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition Ahmed Al-Jarba, who had requested U.S.military aid.

In an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto during his visit to Washington, Al-Jarba insisted that while the Syrian opposition is asking for weapons from the U.S., they are not asking for military personnel.

“This delay (of U.S. support) has greatly affected the situation and terrorism has spread further and was strengthened throughout this past year,” said Al-Jarba. “I believe that now, American support should not be delayed and the American administration needs to know that this regime only knows the language of force. If there is no force, the (Assad) regime will not be affected.”

Senator John McCain, who has been critical of the President’s policy in Syria, welcomed the President’s commitment to increase support for the moderate opposition and in a statement said that “though such a step should have been taken years ago, it is not too late to take it now.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D) New York, the top democrat on the House Foreign Relations committee, told State of the Union that he welcomes the President’s new efforts, but added “I hope it’s not too late.”

“With a terrorist presence seeking a foothold in the region, we have no choice but to use every tool we have–including and especially arming and training the moderate, vetted Syrian rebels–to return Syria to its people and their legitimate demands," said Engel.

The president’s renewed focus on supporting the Syrian opposition has failed to impress some critics.

“The only foreign policy strategy I can discern from this administration is one of apology and withdrawal – certainly not a policy of leadership…” Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, told State of the Union.

Johnson, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations committee had previously kept an “open mind” on military action in Syria.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Theodore Kattouf, suggested that the Obama administration might have underestimated Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, assuming that like other regimes that fell during the Arab Spring, Assad’s own people would successfully remove him from power. 

“For whatever reason, those calling the shots around the President didn’t seem to understand that the Syrian armed forces and security services, at their core, were dominated by his Alawite sect and that they would fight hard for the regime’s survival,” Kattouf told State of the Union. “The more liberal and secular elements of the Syrian opposition were no match for Assad’s forces; they were in many cases eclipsed on the battle field by radical Jihadist organizations.”

Filed under: SOTU Extra • Syria
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