What Is The Obama Administration Doing For The Syrian Rebels?

Right-wing critics of the Obama administration have called for more American action on Syria, advocating air strikes, pushing a Congressional resolution in favor of helping allies arm the rebels, and even hinting directly arming anti-government forces.

But so far the Obama administration has done none of these things. With the U.N. peace plan collapsing, that might soon change. But for now, administration officials have said arming the rebels would require much careful consideration, partly because the rebel forces’ make-up is unknown — a reservation shared by Romney adviser John Bolton.

So what is the Obama administration doing for the rebels in Syria? The details are hazy — much of the activity would likely be classified or inaccessible to journalists — but several recent media reports show that the U.S. has not taken a hands-off approach:

  • LOGISTICS AND COMMUNICATIONS ASSISTANCE – U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that “U.S. intelligence operatives and diplomats have stepped up their contacts with Syrian rebels in part to help organize their burgeoning military operations.” This includes helping with logistics and communications. The officials also told the Journal that the U.S. was considering providing intelligence to the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces.
  • CONSULTING ON ARMS SALES – As in Libya, the U.S. is reportedly not directly involved in arming rebel forces. But that doesn’t mean — in either case — the U.S. is not involved at all. The New York Times reported last week that Syrian activists claimed the U.S. was “consulted” on arms deals where Saudi Arabia and Qatar paid for the Turks to make the transfers (U.S. officials said “they recognized that Syria’s neighbors would do so”).
  • GATHERING INTELLIGENCE ON REBELS – The Journal also noted that “stepped-up links with the FSA are also part of an effort to gain a better understanding of the rebels’ capabilities and of the identities” in a bid to split the FSA from extremist anti-government fighters. This is in line with an earlier report that the administration considered facilitating allies’ work to arm anti-government forces.
  • TECHNOLOGICAL AID AND TRAINING – Time Magazine reported last week that the administration ran a robust program of helping rebel communications not only among each other and allies, but also with the outside world. Those enraging videos of Assad’s foces shelling densely urban areas? Some of them are captured by rebels carrying guns in one hand and U.S.-provided cameras in the other, and uploaded to the web over satellite communications provided by the U.S. and operated with U.S. training.
  • While calls to do more are understandable given the humanitarian crisis unfolding daily in Syria, those who, like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), claim the U.S. “won’t do anything to help the Syrian people” are being disingenuous. Along with the aforementioned involvement by the U.S. (and to the chagrin of reflexive advocates of solely violent force), the Obama administration continues a robust diplomatic push, including U.S. and international sanctions, for greater pressure on the Assad government.