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All eyes are on how the United States deals with Syria

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By Trudy Rubin
Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Obama administration's policy on Syria is a strategic disaster that undercuts its entire foreign policy from the Middle East to Asia.

Bashar al-Assad — whose exit President Obama has demanded for more than a year — is poised to crush the Syrian rebellion using money, weapons and manpower provided by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Washington claims to support moderate rebel fighters. But so far it has delivered only food rations and medical kits — no help against Assad's missiles and bombs.

After months of debate, White House officials finally announced that they will send military aid to the rebels (supposedly because Assad used chemical weapons). But the announcement only made the administration look feckless: The aid will include small arms and ammo but not the heavy weapons required to stall Assad.

Anti-aircraft weapons, crucial for holding off Assad's air assaults, aren't even being considered. This plan is too little, too late.

Meanwhile, the White House “strategy” for Syria — based on the hope that Moscow would push Assad to relinquish power at peace talks in Geneva — has collapsed. Why would Assad (or Russian leader Vladimir Putin) bend when victory is in sight?

Obama doesn't seem to grasp that Syria has become a strategic contest that the whole world is watching, one that involves core U.S. security interests. The president's indecision on Syria has signaled to Russia, Iran and Hezbollah (not to mention China and the Taliban) that they can ignore Obama's tough talk. It has also strained relations with Arab allies that fear Iran and want to see its hold on Syria broken.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who has long been out front on Syria, spoke with Gen. Salim Idris, the military leader of the Syrian opposition, who urged America to send anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to prevent rebel strongholds from falling.

“If the U.S. is not prepared to provide more robust assistance,” Casey said, “I fear that the moderate opposition forces will be defeated.” That would embolden Iran and Hezbollah to act more aggressively throughout the region, undercutting core U.S. security interests and threatening Israel.

A swift delivery of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to vetted rebel commanders would make Assad's allies think twice about the dangerous game they are playing. And it would counter the growing global perception that Obama has abandoned America's historic leadership role.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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