As the reports of chemical weapons use have led to “rethinking” US military involvement in Syria, the main option in the news seems to be arming the insurgents. A US military invasion seems unlikely due to “the experience of Iraq” and “war fatigue” among the US populace. Supplying weapons to the Syrian insurgency is fraught with all of the dangers commented by wiser heads than mine, including the danger that such weapons will end up in the hands of al-Qa’ida and its affiliates for use against the US, an irony which certain groups would only find pleasing.
But there is one concern which I have not seen voiced pertaining to US supplying arms to the Syrian rebels, who at present are outgunned by military forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, and that is the potential for a proxy war. It is obvious that Russia not only diplomatically supports the Syrian regime but also provides weapons to the Syrian military. (Remember last summer’s Russian cargo ship stopped by the UK because it was transporting military helicopters bound for Assad’s army: here, here, a month later here, again in February here.) If the US starts arming the Syrian rebels, Russia will probably increase the supply of weaponry to the Syrian regime. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov already warned the US against using the chemical weapons issue as an excuse to topple the Syrian government. An arms race between Russia and the US on Syrian soil, reminiscent of the worst Cold War-era proxy conflicts, would not reduce the bloodshed or in any way help the Syrian people. It would merely subject the Syrian population to the violence made possible by the fractures in our current international system.
It is unclear that US military intervention in Syria would help anything without first disengaging Russian support for the Assad regime. Ending the supply of weapons to the Assad regime will do far more for limiting the bloodshed in Syria than supplying weapons to the rebels, which would only add fuel to the fire.