Freelance journalist Benjamin Hall in this guest post for Esquire:
I have just returned from Aleppo, the northwestern Syrian city with some of the most bloody fighting (at least 20 dead today) and some of the most striking examples of just how factious the rebellion has become.
I watched as one FSA brigade fired a 50-caliber machine gun as cover fire for another to retrieve a dead body, only for the same two groups to scream at each other later and refuse to help in fighting the next day.
I watched (and ducked) as rebel groups fought over a new weapons influx and shot over each others’ heads, and I wondered: If they’re shooting arms at each other, how do we decide who to better shoot at Assad’s army?
I watched (and listened) as FSA members told me they prefer to enter into Aleppo illegally, rather than crossing through an FSA gate held by the Islamic Asft Alshmal brigade, saying, “They’re not our guys — they’re bad and they take bribes from refugees.”
I watched (and worried) as Salafi jihadis entered into the conflict here, voicing their opposition to Western values — and their aim to impose Sharia law — and I wondered: “Partners”? What partners?”
Obama seems to be indicating (correctly) that it is impossible to know where U.S.-backed weapons will end up and who will get them — that it could then become irresponsible to arm any factions at all. “We are making sure that that those we help are those who will be friends of ours in the long term,” he said on Monday — in a seemingly rationale (if cautious) approach.
Romney believes (correctly) that weapons are getting to the wrong people already, and that is irresponsible for the West not to try and flow weapons to more moderate groups — that it is not impossible. “We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria,” he said at the debate, “making sure that the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties.”
The president shot back that the U.S. is, in fact, “playing the leadership role,” but therein lies the Catch-22: If the U.S. doesn’t actively arm rebels, fundamentalists might get more weapons anyway; if the U.S. goes far enough, as Romney has suggested, to arm FSA partners with rockets and surface-to-air missiles, Sunni insurgents can’t be far behind in tracking down that kind of heavy artillery in the crossfire. And we all know how that turned out in Iraq.