Former Top Obama Security Aid Says U.S. Should Arm Syrian Rebels

Jones with Obama in the Oval Office

President Obama’s former top national security aide said that the United States should provide vetted Syrian rebels with arms to assist in their fight against Bashar al-Assad’s military forces.

“Hope is not a strategy,” retired Marine Gen. James Jones, formerly Obama’s National Security Adviser, told a small gathering at Georgetown University. “If you’re a nation of consequence, you cannot sit back and hope things are going to work out.”

Jones resigned in October, 2010 and reportedly wasn’t exactly one of the president’s closest aides. But Obama praised his efforts in remarks making his resignation announcement. “You complete this assignment leaving your country safer and stronger,” Obama said to Jones.

The retired Marine General told the Georgetown group that “the clock is running out” on Assad and that it’s only a matter of time before he “joins the roll call of fallen dictators, the Ben Alis, the Qaddafis, the Husseins.”

AOL Defense caught up with Jones after the event and asked if he was really advocating that the U.S. arm Syrian rebels:

Yeah, if you can identify where they’re going and you know who the people are,” Jones told AOL Defense. “I’ve been out of government long enough that I’m not involved in the details.”

“To the extent that you can identify that those people that are in the lead position to take over the government, and they’re people that you feel comfortable with, in order to reduce the killing and hasten the end of the regime, you should do that” [i.e. provide weapons], he said. “I think you would want to arm the right group. The question is, what’s the right group?”

Jones is the latest former or current top Obama national security aide to endorse some kind of plan to arm Syria’s rebels. In February, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey confirmed reports that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former CIA director David Petraeus supported arming the Syrian resistance and that they supported such a move.

Meanwhile, pressure from Congress to provide so-called “lethal aid” to the rebels is increasing. The senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee introduced legislation last week authorizing the President to provide such assistance. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) also said last week that the U.S. should consider playing a more active role in bringing about Assad’s downfall, including establishing so-called “safe zones” for Syrian rebels within the country and taking out the Syrian military’s air defense systems and other Syrian Air Force assets.

“It is time for a change in policy,” CAP experts said in a report on the situation in Syria released late last month. “The United States needs to increase its assistance to the Syrian opposition with the goal of supporting an alternative opposition government that is better organized than at present.” The report says that the U.S. could offer to provide arms via the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the Supreme Military Council if it meets certain “organizational incentives.”