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
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1858 GMT (0258 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2200 GMT (0600 HKT)
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT