The lack of American arms has played a large role in the bloody stalemate Syrian troops and anti-Assad forces have fought to in the country's violent civil war, Dov Zakheim, foreign policy adviser to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said on Thursday.
Under a Romney administration, rebel forces would have the heavy weaponry needed to take the fight to Assad and push the longtime Syrian leader from power, he said.
"There are all kinds of ways to make that happen," Zakheim added.
The White House and the Pentagon have been adamantly opposed to arming anti-government troops directly, fearing U.S. weapons may end up in the hands of al Qaeda fighters who have worked their way into the rebel ranks.
But Zakheim quickly dismissed that argument, claiming that U.S.-supplied intelligence falling into al Qaeda hands could be just as dangerous as the terror group getting ahold of American weapons.
If compromised by al Qaeda cells, that information would give the terror group critical insight into U.S. intelligence operations in the region, he said.
That disclosure would be akin to "training [al Qaeda] to do something else against [Americans] elsewhere around the world," according to the Romney adviser.
Because the White House "seems to know the good guys" when filtering intelligence to rebel forces, it should be able to safely move U.S. arms to those forces under the same criteria, Zakheim argued.
That said, the decision to funnel logistics and intelligence support — but not weapons — to Syrian rebels is a severe miscalculation of the conflict and the U.S. interests that are at stake by the Obama administration, Zakheim told reporters during a breakfast in Washington.
That lack of American firepower is already starting to drive Syrian fighters to consider allying themselves with al Qaeda, which is attempting to use the conflict as a way to increase its foothold in the country.
"We don't want al Qaeda here, but if nobody else helps us, we will make an alliance with them," Abu Ammar, a rebel commander stationed in Aleppo, told Reuters in August amid some of the fiercest fighting in the city since the beginning of the war.
"And you can bet if al Qaeda comes here ... the city will become their base within three months," Ammar said at the time.
The White House has begun vetting members of the Free Syria Army, the most organized rebel faction in the country, to evaluate whether they meet the criteria to receive armed support, according to recent news reports.
While the actual weapons would be provided by U.S. allies in the Gulf, the vetting process will likely be run by the Pentagon, the State Department and the U.S. intelligence community.