With the fighting seemingly without end in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, some observers are asking whether the United States should help the rebels overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The U.S. is currently providing assistance in the form of communications equipment and medicine, but many are calling for the U.S. to provide military aid as well.
VOA’s Mohamed Elshinnawi discussed this issue with Theodore Kattouf, the former ambassador to Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Kattouf is currently the president and CEO of Amideast, a U.S. non-profit organization working to promote cooperation between Americans and the people of the Middle East.
Future U.S. involvement
“The U.S. government has been unwilling to provide anything other than nonlethal and humanitarian assistance up until now. I think that will remain the policy of the administration, and the reason I say this is that it looks to be as though this war could drag on for a long time. In fact, even if the regime’s inner core were to disappear, I think the war will go in with increasingly sectarian overtones. That is a very difficult position for the U.S., a secular country, which wants to promote unity and peace in Syria, to get involved in.”
“Turkey is becoming increasingly alarmed, for instance, by the Kurdish population in the northeast of Syria, having basically taken control away from the government in which they lived. You’ll recall when Saddam Hussein was in his last days in Iraq – or even before – the Turkish military sometimes came over the border to deal with these types of issues that they view as terrorism. It’s not beyond thinking that they could do the same in Syria. Much like in the U.S., my understanding is the Turkish popular opinion is against any full Turkish military commitment to the opposition in Syria.”
‘It should not be left just to the United States’
“There are many other countries in this world. It should not be left just to the United States, or to England and France, to be urging the Russians to change their policy. We want to see the Islamic conference and Arab League states putting their weight behind this and making it clear to the Russians that it hurts [them] when they insist on backing an unpopular dictatorship that’s probably on its last legs. We can step up certain types of non-lethal aid to the opposition. We can help vet the various groups that are fighting in the country so that arms don’t fall into the hands of extremists who don’t care about Syria but would have Syria be part of a greater Islamic polity that is unrealistic, but which they espouse.”
Listen to more of Theodore Kattouf’s insights (9:25):
Egyptian-American Mohamed Elshinnawi is a senior reporter at VOA. He covered the Middle East peace process from Camp David in 1978 through the 1993 Oslo Agreements to Syrian-Israeli talks in 2000. He interviewed Arab heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers and as well as ranking U.S. officials, including members of Congress. He hosted "Dialogue with the West," a live TV show which, broadcast via satellite from Washington, reached 35 million Arabs. He is fluent in Arabic and English.