Skip to main content

Rubio: Syrians must feel U.S. support

By Marco Rubio, Special to CNN
updated 10:19 AM EST, Mon March 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marco Rubio: U.S. must step in with more assistance or other actors will fill void
  • He says Obama's slowness to act to end bloodshed risks increasing instability in region
  • He says U.S. should help moderates get ammunition and training to oust al-Assad
  • Rubio: U.S. should back opposition; the Syrian people will remember U.S. help

Editor's note: Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate. A Republican, he is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

(CNN) -- As the crisis in Syria enters its third year and the death toll exceeds 70,000, America's values and interests are increasingly at risk as others fill the void left by our inaction. I saw this firsthand during a recent trip to the Middle East during which I met with Jordanians, Syrians and Israelis concerned about the fallout of a brutal civil war.

In Jordan, the government and international aid agencies are scrambling to deal with more than 400,000 refugees fleeing the fighting, many of whom are women and children. Meanwhile, our allies in Israel are increasingly concerned about the nightmare scenario of chemical and advanced anti-aircraft weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah or Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda.

In April 2011, when the death toll stood in the low hundreds, I called on President Barack Obama to support the Syrian people's desires for freedom and an end to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. I proposed a series of measures to immediately isolate al-Assad, including tough economic sanctions and severance of diplomatic ties. Unfortunately, this and similar calls by Democrats and Republicans went unheeded at the time, only to be implemented by this administration months later -- slowly, hesitantly and ineffectually.

There are now two conflicts underway in Syria.

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio

One is the battle to oust al-Assad. The second is the emerging fight for control of a post-Assad Syria. This latter fight will pit more moderate groups within the armed opposition against Sunni Islamists. We need to ensure that the responsible actors win this battle and that Syria is no longer an ally of Iran and a staging point for destabilizing terror.

America must not turn its back on the Syrian people. Our interests are still served by the rapid resolution of the conflict and the removal of al-Assad from power.

What might a successful Syria strategy look like?

First, we cannot expect Syria's post-Assad rulers to respect our interests and wishes if we are not willing to support them in their fight. While recent reports indicate that the rebels are increasingly in possession of much of the weaponry they have long sought, what they need now is ammunition. We should do everything possible to get moderate elements within the opposition the ammunition, intelligence support, training and other equipment they need to help hasten al-Assad's fall.

Ghitis: Syrian war is everybody's problem

What should be done with Iran, Syria?
Secy. of State Kerry takes on Syrian war

While some worry that the Syrian opposition is entirely anti-American and made up of radicals, the reality is that Islamist forces remain in the minority. Continued inaction, however, will only empower these anti-American elements of the opposition.

We thus need to work more closely with groups such as the Syrian Opposition Council. The SOC has made great strides in unifying the more reasonable elements of the opposition and attempting to be inclusive of Syria's minorities, but it has suffered from slow and lukewarm support from Washington.

The Obama administration should back their efforts to form a transitional government that can begin to govern rebel-controlled areas of Syria as soon as possible and put to rest any doubts about our support. The additional nonlethal assistance to the SOC and to armed opposition groups announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on Thursday is a positive step, but much more needs to be done.

Just as the Berlin airlift in the late '40s created a generation of Germans who remembered American support in their hour of need, Syrian children suffering today in refugee camps should understand that the U.S. government and American people care about their plight and are taking action to assist them.

Although most of it cannot be traced back to us, the U.S. has actually provided hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and nonlethal assistance since the conflict began. However, in the camps outside of Syria, international aid agencies, often supported primarily by U.S. funds, have not made the source of their funding apparent to the refugees they are hosting. Similarly, citing security concerns, the administration has been slow to brand U.S. assistance inside of Syria and make its origins clear to the populace.

Even if these concerns are justified, there are ways to work with aid groups to utilize social media and with local leaders to highlight America's humanitarian assistance at work. We should also be more willing to rely not just on international nongovernmental organizations and aid agencies, but also use the moderate groups we wish to strengthen as conduits for aid, helping them legitimize themselves with the Syrian people.

We need decisive American leadership to avoid the worst outcomes in Syria.

As one Syrian opposition figure recently told me, as long as "the United States remains not present," the crisis is likely to only be prolonged. This may result in a post-Assad Syria that is a failed state in which Islamic radicals and Iranian agents with little interest in a liberal order flourish.

For the sake of our security interests and the safety of our allies, we can and must do more to prevent such an outcome.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marco Rubio.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 7:17 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT