Skip to main content

Rubio: Syrians must feel U.S. support

By Marco Rubio, Special to CNN
March 4, 2013 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
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
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT