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If Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syria, should US arm rebels?

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So is the furor over Russian helicopters likely to be the tipping point that shifts the Obama administration into a more interventionist mode? (Think last summer’s Libya campaign here.)

Certainly, the administration has not backed off Clinton’s charges. In response to Russian claims that no new helicopters are being sent to Syria, and that whatever arms are being sent are for national air-defense purposes only, State Department officials acknowledge that Clinton may have been talking about older, refurbished helicopters – but still attack helicopters – being sent back to Syria.

But neither Clinton nor anyone else in the administration has gone the next step to say Russia’s provisioning of Assad with heavy weapons would trigger a more robust US response, such as arming the rebels’ Syrian Free Army.

The arguments against arming the rebels have not changed:

  • The opposition is poorly organized and no one knows for sure who its members are.
  • Weapons destined for the rebels could fall into the hands of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups who include the US among their targets.
  • Arming the rebels, in the face of a Russia-supported government, could lead to a proxy war with dangerous geopolitical repercussions.

But a string of massacres in pro-opposition villages in recent weeks, mounting evidence of Assad employing heavy weapons against a rebellious populace, and now the issue of Russian attack helicopters are all increasing pressure on the US to do more than issue statements and rebukes.

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