Syrian Civil War: Will Obama's Decision to Arm the Rebels Restart the Cold War?


On June 12, 1987, President Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and demanded that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev "Tear down this wall!" Almost exactly 26 years later, President Obama has found himself in a similar showdown with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Thursday, the United States announced that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has crossed the "red line" by using chemical weapons in a civil war that has already killed an estimated 93,000 people.

The American strategy in Syria is still unfolding; however, it is becoming clear that the U.S. president has decided to provide rebel forces with small arms and ammunition.

After the announcement, the Russian president immediately took to the offensive, quickly dismissing American claims regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, arguing that U.S. intervention will destroy any chance for Syrian peace talks.

Russia has rapidly become the largest arms supplier in Syria, opting to back Assad's regime throughout the civil war and leaving many to wonder if a U.S.-Russia proxy war is inevitable in the war-torn state.

Relations between Russia and the U.S. have been strained for quite some time now. Most notably, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, ignored a request to converse with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in February of this year.

Although President Obama sought to hit the "reset button" with Russia early on in his presidency, it appears that little progress has been made towards easing the tension.

With Russia and the U.S. supplying weapons to opposing parties in Syria, it is reminiscent of the Cold War, in which arms-trading was an integral part of the strategy to bolster allies in various regions of the world.

This week, Moscow has called on Washington to dismiss plans to arm Syrian rebels and instead focus on peace talks. However, it is unlikely that the White House will agree to convene with Assad at this critical juncture.

If the peace talks were to take place now, pro-Assad forces would have a clear advantage and would be far less likely to compromise with rebel forces. In order for legitimate concessions to take place, the Assad regime must feel that reform is unavoidable.

Unfortunately, Putin will not take kindly to Obama's decision to arm Syrian rebels. In doing so, escalation of arms trading will undoubtedly occur on both sides of this civil war.

The latest conflict over Syria has all but guaranteed that the rival nations will be unable to find common ground in the near future, potentially igniting a proxy war between the White House and the Kremlin.