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 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT