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Is Obama's aid to Syrian rebels too little, too late?
For the first time, the U.S. is sending aid directly to the opposition. But the money is for food and medicine — not weapons
Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Syrian National Coalition President Mouaz al-Khatib during a press conference on Feb. 28.
Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Syrian National Coalition President Mouaz al-Khatib during a press conference on Feb. 28. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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ecretary of State John Kerry this week promised $60 million in relief supplies to the Syrian National Coalition, marking the first time the Obama administration has agreed to directly aid the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The money will go to "non-lethal" assistance, such as food and medicine, a fact that left rebel leaders underwhelmed. They had requested weapons, or at least military equipment such as vehicles and night-vision goggles, leaving some Middle East analysts to declare the help "too little, too late."

That's a fair assessment, according to Lee Smith at The Weekly Standard. The opposition knows what it will take to end the bloody, two-year fight to topple Assad, and they're disappointed because they know "the Free Syrian Army is not going to get what it needs" to do the job. 

Kerry's press conference in Rome amounts to little more than a tacit admission that finally, after two years, the administration has worked out the bureaucratic kinks. Forget about getting guns to the rebels, the Obama team is just figuring out how to get blankets to Assad's victims inside Syria. [Weekly Standard]

Other observers, though, think President Obama and his team are wise to take this cautious approach. "The administration is right," says The Los Angeles Times in an editorial. "Arming the rebels now would be a mistake."

There is no guarantee that arming the Free Syrian Army would significantly hasten Assad's overthrow, and there remains the possibility that weapons provided to trusted groups would find their way to the radical Islamist fighters who constitute a second front in the opposition to Assad. And while arming the rebels wouldn't lead ineluctably to the use of U.S. air power or the sending of American troops, a military alliance with the rebels would make escalation likelier. [Los Angeles Times]

The trick is finding the right balance between being passive, and getting dragged too deeply into another war, says Greg Dobbs in The Denver Post. "No matter how ugly the war has turned in Syria" — the death toll now stands at an estimated 70,000 — "few if any Americans want to put our soldiers' boots on the ground there." There's still more we can do, though, that would be even more decisive than sending the rebels weapons. "It's called air power."

If Assad wins, it won't matter that we flew in to defeat him; in his mind, we already are the devil incarnate. But if the rebels win, it will matter a lot that the U.S. finally took decisive action, albeit late, on their behalf. We will be the superpower that helped save their revolution, and save their lives. [Denver Post]

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