Two years too late and with less than full conviction President Obama has finally announced that his administration will aid the Syrian rebels with lethal force. This follows confirmation by the White House last night of what was already well known – that Bashar al-Assad has been using chemical weapons against his own people.

Obama’s intervention will be of limited utility. Supplying rebels with heavy arms and anti-aircraft missiles principally help civilians exposed to air raids and scud missile attacks, but will not help the rebels make significant gains.

This might be precisely what Obama wants, but he will struggle to limit the extent of American involvement now. Having decided to back the rebels he cannot afford for them to lose, although that’s precisely what’s been happening in recent weeks. Assad’s forces have not only reclaimed Qusayr but are readying themselves for a massive assault on rebel held districts in eastern Aleppo.

Obama’s offer of support in this regard may be much like the fruit of the medlar tree; turning rotten long before it’s ripe. Assad’s success in recent months is attributable not to his aerial superiority but to the increased presence of Hezbollah fighters. Their enlarged role in the conflict has effectively neutralised the only rebel advantage: using guerrilla tactics. Assad’s forces may not understand insurgency, but Hezbollah have mastered it over the years.

Supplying the rebels with weapons will do little to address this. Indeed, even a no fly zone would be of limited use in this regard. Over the last two years Syria’s uprising has degenerated to the point where there is no longer any way to intervene effectively. This is the quagmire now engulfing Obama’s administration. American involvement will do little to change the conflict but Obama is committed now. He may soon regret leaving intervention this late and will almost certainly have time to repent at leisure.


The next Spectator Debate on 24 June will be debating the motion ‘Assad is a war criminal. The West must intervene in Syria’ with Malcolm Rifkind, Andrew Green, Douglas Murray and more. Click here to book tickets.

Tags: Barack Obama, Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, International politics