Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, announced that he would address the Syrian conflict by arming Syrian rebels if he were president. Romney’s stand on the Syrian conflict sends ominous signs and reminds us of a history when major powers such as America and France have supported rebel forces with little success, ultimately resulting in catastrophic ramifications for the countries in question. Two such instances that come to mind are the American support for the Afghan Mujahideen in the war against Russia in the late 1970s and 1980s and the French arming of the Hutu rebel forces in Rwanda in 1994.
America’s support for the Mujahideen, advocates of Jihad, stemmed from a fear of Soviet communism in the Cold War. The CIA trained the Mujahideen and provided them with state of the art weaponry in what were America’s most expensive covert operation and a war that lasted until 1989. The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, which gave rise to the radical Taliban and America’s biggest would-be enemy, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban, in line with its beliefs, implemented the Sharia law. While the Taliban’s rise to power was probably the most obvious outcome of the war, it was against America’s ideologies of democracy and capitalism, which was what America expected the Afghans to adopt at the end of the war. Thus began America’s conflict against radical Islam, a predicament that the world is still grappling with.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is remembered as one of deadliest conflicts of 20th century history and is still fresh in the minds of most people who know about it. The roots of the genocide lie in the discrimination of Hutus and Tutsis in Belgian Congo of the 1900s. While the Belgians were in power, they gave the Tutsis more power while the Hutus were suppressed. When the Belgians left, they appointed Hutus in powerful positions, thus, resulting in resentful Tutsis. Therefore, a Uganda based Tutsi rebel group invaded Rwanda, which had a majority Hutu population. In revenge, the Hutu militias unleashed genocide on the Tutsis and the Hutus who were hiding Tutsis. There is evidence to prove that the French were responsible for providing arms to Hutu militias through Hutu government forces. The end result was the slaughter of approximately 800,000 in a matter of 100 days.
History has proven on numerous occasions that assisting rebel forces to overthrow a government has had calamitous repercussions. Hence, it is important for Mitt Romney to amend his foreign policy stance and understand that arming Syrian rebels could also have potentially disastrous ramifications. In fact, analysts and experts on the Syrian conflict contend that foreign Jihadist elements from countries such as Libya could be involved with the Syrian rebel forces. History has given America and other Western powers many an important lesson in involvement with rebels, and it is time America takes its history in Afghanistan and French history with Rwanda seriously so that the bloodbath in Syria ends as quickly as possible without foreign intervention.
Aditya Mehta is a College junior from Mumbai, India joint majoring in Sociology-Religion.