by Dish Staff
Frederic Hof slams Obama for not arming the Syrian rebels back in 2012:
No doubt the president is sensitive to the charge that his rejection of the 2012 recommendation by his national security team to arm and equip nationalist Syrian rebels robustly has contributed significantly, if inadvertently, to ISIL’s growth in both Syria and Iraq. His comments to Friedman implicitly dismiss the 2012 recommendation itself as a fantasy, but as Secretary Clinton’s Syria adviser I was a member of the administration at that time. The recommendation, in one form or another, was offered not only by Clinton, but by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey. Yet the president, ignoring decades of universal conscription and mandatory military service in Syria, persists in characterizing the Assad regime’s armed opponents as a hopeless collection of former butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
What is truly curious, however, is the request to Congress for $500 million to finance what the president deems a fantasy. Indeed, if press reports are true that the United States is already involved in some low-level arming, equipping and training of Syrian rebels, one wonders how many taxpayer dollars have already been spent on something the commander-in-chief deems illusory.
In a post we noted earlier, Marc Lynch explains why arming was a dodgy idea, and remains so today. Larison piles on, starting with a reminder that the exact same outcome that anti-interventionists feared in Syria (jihadists taking control of American weapons intended for “moderate” allies) has come to pass in Iraq. And another thing:
It should also be obvious that groups such as ISIS benefit from collapsing state authority, so it is not clear why an even more activist Syria policy aimed at collapsing the Syrian government would have been bad for that group or one like it.
The bigger problem with the hawkish revisionism on this question points to the inherent absurdity of what they were demanding from the U.S. (and what the administration has more recently agreed to do). Syria hawks wanted the U.S. to arm anti-regime forces for the purpose of overthrowing the government, but they emphasized their desire to arm only the “right” kind of insurgents to distract from the small problem that their overall goal of regime change would inevitably empower jihadist groups. Syria hawks wanted to arm the opposition in the hopes that it would start a process that would bring the Syrian government down, and if that had happened that would have created an even worse chaotic landscape in which jihadist groups would have thrived even more than they already do. Instead of jihadists controlling just part of Syria, it is entirely possible that even more of Syria would have ended up under their control had the administration done exactly what Syria hawks wanted and if things had worked according to plan.
Max Fisher and Amanda Taub list some other reasons why Obama’s choice not to intervene in Syria doesn’t contradict his choice to intervene (reluctantly) in Iraq. Among these reasons is that there’s a difference between intervening to preserve the status quo and intervening to change it:
Obama ordered air strikes against ISIS in Iraq focused on the narrow goal of defending Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Kurdistan had been mostly secure until ISIS began pushing into the territory about a week ago; it’s got a stable, pro-American, oil-producing government. Obama’s strikes are meant to help Kurdistan defend itself, and to preserve the status quo of a secure Kurdistan. The strikes are very clearly not about trying to change the larger ISIS war in Iraq, or to help Iraq retake the vast ISIS-held swathes of territory. In Syria, there is no “good” status quo to defend. Any strikes against ISIS there would be about pushing the group back from Syrian territory it already controls, so that more moderate Syrian rebels could seize it. In other words, the air strikes would be about changing the facts on the ground in Syria, rather than preserving them.
Obama seems willing to use force when he can protect something good — a stable, secure Iraqi Kurdistan — but not to try to fix something bad. He doesn’t want to “own” the outcome, get dragged into a potentially long engagement that could easily escalate, or risk sending the conflict spinning in an unpredictable new direction. So the US approach to Syria and Iraq is consistent in this respect.
Even Allahpundit sees how these criticisms of Obama’s reticence to intervene ignore reality:
It’s easy to say in hindsight “we should have hit ISIS harder before they had time to establish themselves”; in reality, had Obama made that case at the time, he would have been scoffed at by war-weary lefties and righties. And with good reason: There’s simply never been compelling evidence, the way there is with an America-friendly battle-tested force like the peshmerga in Kurdistan, that an FSA armed by Uncle Sam would have been equal to the task of stopping the jihadis, let alone Assad.