U.S. Steps Up Support for the Syrian Rebels, but Still Won't Arm Them

John Kerry met with Syrian National Coalition President Mouaz al-Khatib Thursday in Italy. John Kerry met with Syrian National Coalition President Mouaz al-Khatib Thursday in Italy. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

New Secretary of State John Kerry met with leaders of the Syria opposition Thursday and pledged the United States to increased assistance for the rebels—but only the "nonlethal" kind. For the first time, the Americans will formally provide supplies and aid directly to the Syrian rebel fighters, offering $60 million in food and medical supplies. However, The New York Times reports that the intentionally broad definition of "nonlethal assistance" could be expanded to include everything from vehicles to night-vision goggles to body armor. Kerry was in Rome to attend a "Friends of Syria" meeting, where opposition leaders met with diplomats from other European and Arab countries hoping to push Bashar al-Assad out of office.

The U.S. finds itself wrestling with two competing issues when dealing with the Syria rebels. One is concern about "blowback." Because terrorist groups have become a part of the scattered rebel coalition, arming the "rebels" could mean that those same weapons may one day be used against the U.S. or its allies. However, if the U.S. doesn't do something to help, the rebels could win anyway and then their terrorists friends will still have the upper hand in Syria. And the Americans will have lost a chance to create a new ally in the Middle East.

So, Western nations have finally come around to the idea that they must try to tip the balance of power in favor of the opposition, but without giving them too much power. The plan now is provide aid to Syria through the rebels, in the hopes of turning them into a legitimate opposition government; one that can provide for its people. Freeing up those others resources may also help tip the balance against Assad on the battlefield, and finally push the war toward its inevitable conclusion. The United States could definitely do more, but would prefer it if this amount of help was just enough. 

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