Obama Blocked Clinton On Syria

by Dish Staff

That’s what Rogin reports:

Clinton and her senior staff warned the White House multiple times before she left office that the Syrian civil war was getting worse, that working with the civilian opposition was not enough, and that the extremists were gaining ground. The United States needed to engage directly with the Free Syrian Army, they argued; the loose conglomeration of armed rebel groups was more moderate than the Islamic forces—and begging for help from the United States. According to several administration officials who were there, her State Department also warned the White House that Iraq could fall victim to the growing instability in Syria. It was all part of a State Department plea to the president to pursue a different policy.

“The State Department warned as early as 2012 that extremists in eastern Syria would link up with extremists in Iraq. We warned in 2012 that Iraq and Syria would become one conflict,” said former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. “We highlighted the competition between rebel groups on the ground, and we warned if we didn’t help the moderates, the extremists would gain.”

Rogin frames nonintervention in Syria as a mistake by Obama, but Douthat rightly sides with the president:

[T]here is, and will continue to be, an argument that as fraught-with-difficulty as directing arms to more moderate/secular rebels would have been, the upside for American interests still would have been higher than what’s ensued in the absence of such an attempt. But to make the case for that counterfactual, it isn’t enough to say, “look how bad things have ended up without our involvement.” You need a plausible account of how that involvement would have worked, how it could have been made effective enough to matter, and how its significant risks would have been contained. And given what we know about our own capacities, the interests of the region’s powers, and the realities on the ground, a best-case outcome for that counterfactual still seems less likely than two others: One in which we expended a great deal of energy, manpower and resources while making no difference whatsoever, and another in which chaos’s ripples were wider, and we ended up called upon to protect our friends, in Kurdistan and perhaps elsewhere, against an even greater threat.

Drum is on the same page:

It’s human nature to believe that intervention is always better than doing nothing. Liberals tend to believe this in domestic affairs and conservatives tend to believe it in foreign affairs. But it’s not always so. The Middle East suffers from fundamental, longstanding fractures that the United States simply can’t affect other than at the margins. Think about it this way: What are the odds that shipping arms and supplies to a poorly defined, poorly coordinated, and poorly understood rebel alliance in Syria would make a significant difference in the long-term outcome there when two decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq barely changed anything? Slim and none.