Major news sources throughout the country have reported the US Congress has delayed the shipment of military aid to the Syrian rebels. The Muslim Brotherhood, who represented the largest faction of rebel fighters, has stated that they felt, “abandoned and disappointed” by the lack of US support. The delay in the arms a shipment is a precaution against repeating the situation that arose in the early 1980’s after arms shipments sent to the Mujahedeen, meant to fight the Soviets in the Cold War, later became weapons of terror against the Afgani people, and were also used against American and NATO soldiers since the invasion of 2001. Like the Mujahedeen of Afghanistan, the Muslim Brotherhood, has emerged as a force for fundamental Islam, but one that is also resistant to an unfriendly regime. The congressional delay in arms demonstrates, to some extent, they may now understand that the old saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ cannot be applied in nearly as straight forward a manner as it had been in the past.
This was not the first delayed arms trade by the US in the Middle East. President Nixon, relying on the “balance of power” concept, limited the number of aircraft sent to Israel, a US ally, in the years prior to and during the 1973 October War. The A-4 Skyhawks and F-4 Phantoms, along with technology needed for their maintenance, were sent to Israel as a way to replace their losses in the field, as well as provide a barrier to compete with the Middle East influence of the USSR. However, by 1972, the Israeli requests were well over the amount lost in combat, putting President Nixon in the difficult position of challenging a close ally in the name of stability. As stated in a memorandum for the Secretary of Defense from November 30, 1971, Israel was to be given enough weapons in order to ensure that it could defend her borders successfully.
In the modern Middle East, the players have changed, as well as the circumstances, but the principles remain the same. Handing of heavy weapons to rebels in this region has proved dangerous in the long run. However an alternative has been assessed that allow for the balance to be preserved, this time between the Syrian people and its government. While the rebels on the ground will continue to wield the same weapons they have had before, mainly small arms and rocket propelled grenades, a western supply of air strikes against government installations, as well as army depots and warehouses, would allow for the rebels to fight the oppressive regime on more even terrain.
This would provide a more balanced battleground because Assad would no longer be countering his own people, but the watchful eyes of Western powers as well. While the likelihood of productive talks between Assad and the rebels are small, President Obama can learn from President Nixon’s time dealing with the turbulent Middle East. As President Nixon included many Arab nations into the peace process that focused on a few nations, so to President Obama should utilize regional actors, such as Turkey and Jordan—American allies—into the process in order to add an Arab voice to a future resolution.
President Nixon’s goal in the early 1970s, creating a balance of power, was meant to establish the United States as a mediator between Israel and the Arab allies. This modern situation is a perfect opportunity for Obama to include our Arab friends in a situation where their cultural similarities and expertise can go a long way into initiating the ending of hostilities that engulfed the country, and keep the US from having to pick sides in a lose-lose situation.