In the Vice Presidential Debates on Thursday, both candidates agreed on the fundamentals of policy towards the civil conflict in Syria, even as both struggled to differentiate themselves for voters.
“You’re in a country that is heavily populated in the midst of the most dangerous area in the world,” Vice President Biden said, referring to Syria. “And, in fact, if in fact it blows up and the wrong people gain control, it’s going to have impact on the entire region causing potentially regional wars.”
“We are working hand and glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, and with all the people in the region,” Biden added, “attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes — and he will go — there will be a legitimate government that follows on, not an Al Qaida-sponsored government that follows on.”
Biden was describing the Obama administratoin policy which has been to send tens of millions of dollars, plus humanitarian assistance and non-lethal aid like communications equipment and intelligence, to the rebel militias in Syria. Meanwhile, the CIA is on the Turkish border funneling in weapons from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
While the administration claims it has a vetting process that picks and chooses which groups get the aid, this has been openly criticized by intelligence officials as untrustworthy. The opposition groups contain not only local fighters who have committed war crimes, according to the United Nations, but foreign fighters that are battling under the banner of al-Qaeda.
When the Vice President speaks of ensuring that al-Qaead doesn’t get promoted in Syria, he’s contradicting his own administration’s policies. That religious extremists who describe themselves as jihadists are getting the aid, and not “freedom fighters,” as they’ve been referred to, should be clear from the fact that religious authoritarian governments like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are participating in the support.
Biden continued: “And all this loose talk of my friend, Governor Romney, and the congressman, about how we’re going to do, we could do so much more in there, what more would they do other than put American boots on the ground?”
“The last thing America needs,” Biden said, “is to get in another ground war in the Middle East, requiring tens of thousands, if not well over 100,000 American forces.”
Biden then correctly pointed out that the Romney campaign, and Congressman Ryan, have not been able to articulate a different policy for Syria, but have attempted to criticize it nonetheless.
“Now, every time the governor is asked about this,” Biden said, “he doesn’t say anything. He — he goes up with a whole lot of verbiage, but when he gets pressed he says, no, he would not do anything different than we are doing now.”
Ryan responded: “Nobody is proposing to send troops to Syria.” Instead, Ryan said the difference in a Romney-Ryan adminsitration would have been that they would never have described Assad as a reformer, prior to the start of the civil war in 2011, and that they would not let the United Nations decide US policy on Syria.
At best, Ryan described the difference in actual policy would have been to support the Syrian rebels earlier: “We could have more easily identified the free Syrian army, the freedom fighters, working with our allies, the Turks, the Qataris, the Saudis, had we had a better plan in place to begin with working through our allies. But, no, we waited for Kofi Annan to try and come up with an agreement through the U.N. That bought Bashar Assad time.”
Biden countered: “What would my friend do differently? If you notice, he never answers the question.”
While both candidates explained that they would not currently support direct military action in Syria – whether in the form of a no-fly zone or invasion – both did agree that aiding the Syrian rebels to overthrow the Assad regime – normally categorized as an act of war in itself – is the correct current policy.
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