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Obama must make good on promises to Syrians

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The U.S.-backed Syrian peace talks collapsed in a heap without ever getting started. Over two week-long sessions, the sides couldn’t even agree on an agenda, much less utter a single constructive word about how to end the raging civil war. The diplomats didn’t even attempt to salvage the wreckage by scheduling another session.

Meanwhile:

  • The Syrian rebels are split by rivalries, fighting among themselves. Al-Qaida and other terror groups draw jihadists from across the Middle East.
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad is busting deadlines in his pledge to relinquish his chemical weapons arsenal.
  • Once vulnerable, Assad appears more cemented in power than ever. The Russians and Iran’s mullahs, staunch allies of Assad, are smiling.

And the killing continues.

On Tuesday came word of escalating government bombing of rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, sending hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing in one of the largest refugee surges of the civil war. Civilians in rebel enclaves of the city of Homs and elsewhere are being starved of food and medicine by government forces.

In other words, a terrible situation keeps getting worse.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that hope for a negotiated settlement is fading fast. The U.S. is now considering several options, including paying salaries to some rebel forces and providing more intelligence and transportation to them, The New York Times reports. Obama said "the situation’s fluid and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue."

That can’t just be more diplo-mumble.

Last year, Obama promised to provide lethal arms to carefully screened rebels, a move we strongly backed. It’s not clear how much of that weaponry has been delivered. It is clear that limited U.S. assistance has not tilted the balance of power.

Obama needs to make good on his promises. The Free Syrian Army, more moderate and secular than other rebel factions, is the best hope to foster a post-Assad Syria that does not become a terror haven.

The U.S. reportedly has dropped its objections to proposals by Saudi Arabia and other countries to deliver more advanced weapons to carefully screened rebel groups. Among the weapons the Saudis have agreed to supply, according to The Wall Street Journal: Portable anti-aircraft missiles that can take down jets.

Arming rebels with such weapons is risky. Weapons that flow into the country could find their way into terrorist hands. Without those arms, however, the rebels have little hope of driving Assad out of power, or even to genuine negotiations.

No one can predict the trajectory of this civil war. But the longer it rages, the more it threatens other countries in the region, including Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at Russia for arming Assad and propping up his brutal regime. But Russia — and Iran — show no signs of backing down. Why should they, particularly when the U.S. has been so reluctant to back moderate rebels to the hilt?

Assad won’t leave because Obama says it is time for him to go. He will leave when he has no other options. Right now, that moment looks to be a long way off.

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