Mitt Romney has renewed his call for the United States to arm Syrians rebelling against the regime of Bashar Assad, after more than 100 people were massacred in the village of Houla last Friday.
“President Obama can no longer ignore calls from congressional leaders in both parties to take more assertive steps,’’ Romney said Sunday. “The [Kofi] Annan ‘peace’ plan — which President Obama still supports — has merely granted the Assad regime more time to execute its military onslaught. The United States should work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves.’’
Romney endorsed arming Syrian rebels during a Republican presidential debate in February but has not often discussed the violence in that country on the campaign trail.
Last week’s mass killings have prompted increased speculation that the United States could intervene. General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that military plans are ready if the White House orders action.
Also Monday, UN special envoy Annan reopened negotiations in Damascus by urging the Syrian government to adhere to a six-point agreement reached in March, which included a cease-fire. The Obama administration has expressed declining confidence in the agreement; White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier this month that if violence continues, “the international community is going to have to admit defeat.’’
But the alternative strategy of giving weapons to the rebels remains controversial. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has lobbied Saudi Arabia not to arm Syrians, and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, a Republican who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has said both parties “agree that’s probably a bad idea, mainly because we just don’t know who they are.’’
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, with whom Romney celebrated Memorial Day, is a vocal proponent of arming the rebels.
“There’s always, ‘We don’t know who they are.’ I’ll tell you who they are. They’re a direct repudiation of Al Qaeda,’’ McCain said three weeks ago. “Al Qaeda believes in acts of terror to change governments. These people believe in peaceful demonstration.’’
Romney said Sunday that the United States should play a lead role in ousting Assad from power.
“The bloodshed in Houla makes clear that our goal must be a new Syrian government, one that contributes to peace and stability in the Middle East and that truly represents the brave Syrian people,’’ he said.