Daværende CIA-sjef David Petraeus hadde i høst klekket ut en plan for hvordan man skulle finne pålitelige opprørere i Syria som USA kunne utstyre med våpen. Planen ble støttet av forsvarsminister Leon Panetta, utenriksminister Hillary Clinton, forsvarssjefen, dvs. nær sagt hele presidentens sikkerhetsteam. Likevel ble det nei.
President Barack Obama nedla forbud mot amerikansk engasjement. Han vil ikke at USA igjen skal bli involvert i en krig i et muslimsk/arabisk land.
Dette kom frem under en høring i Kongressen torsdag, som skulle dreid seg om Benghazi, men hvor mye kom til å handle om Syria. Det er sjelden intern uenighet på toppen av Obama-administrasjonen blir kjent.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. But it was ultimately vetoed by the White House, Mr. Panetta said, although it was developed by David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state.
“How many more have to die before you recommend military action?” Mr. McCain asked Mr. Panetta on Thursday, noting that an estimated 60,000 Syrians had been killed in the fighting.
And did the Pentagon, Mr. McCain continued, support the recommendation by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus “that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Did you support that?”
“We did,” Mr. Panetta said.
“You did support that,” Mr. McCain said.
“We did,” General Dempsey added.
En grunn til vetoet var nok at det var valgkamp, og væpning representerte en risiko. Noen tjenestemenn trodde kanskje at planen ville bli tatt opp igjen etter valget. Men da hadde Petreaeus havnet i en skandale, og Clinton hadde vært ut av spill i flere uker pga. en hjernerystelse. Panetta skulle også forlate jobben.
Det viste seg dessuten at Obama var kategorisk imot amerikansk engasjement, selv ved stedfortreder.
Syriske opprørere er bitre over den manglende hjelpen. De føler at de blir ofret. De klarer ikke se at erfaringene fra Irak og Afghanistan gjør at terskelen for amerikansk engasjement er blitt høy. Nyheten om at den al-Qaida-tilknyttede al-Nusra-fronten får økt innflytelse, bekrefter skepsisen.
Men historier som den opprørsgeneralen al-Haj Ali kan fortelle, gjør selvsagt mange syrere bitre.
Syria rebel leaders have long appealed for weapons. Mohammad Hussein al-Haj Ali, a Syrian major general who defected to the opposition, said in a telephone interview last year that he had raised the issue of arming the resistance in a September meeting in Amman, Jordan, with Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of the Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East.
“He was very sympathetic to it, but his main concern was who would actually get hold of these weapons,” he said, referring to General Mattis.
General Haj Ali said he promised that the rebels who were armed would take care not to lose control of the weapons and would return any that they did not use.
General Mattis “said he would meet the top administration officials within 48 hours and get back to me,” General Haj Ali said through an interpreter, adding that he still had received no response several weeks later.
Men Obamas plikt er å ivareta USAs interesser, ikke Syrias.
Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former United States ambassador to Israel and Egypt, said the potential risks outweighed the gains. Even with thorough vetting, he said, it would be difficult to ensure that the weapons did not end up with unreliable or hostile groups.
“The problem that I think the White House has identified much more clearly than the national security team is, ‘Who are you going to deal with?’ ” Mr. Kurtzer said.