President Obama – in a huge and epic U-turn – wants $500 million to train “moderate” Syrian rebels:
Previously, US aid to the Syrian opposition that is fighting dictator Bashar al-Assad focused on non-lethal provisioning, while the Central Intelligence Agency focused on sending small arms and missiles to what the US calls the “vetted” Syrian moderates. Yet the Gulf Arab states have established an arms pipeline giving a substantive military edge to jihadist groups fighting Assad and one another. … US military training for the Syrians, three-and-a-half years into a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people and recast the boundaries of the Middle East, is likely to take place in Jordan, where the US military already trains its Iraqi counterparts. It is also in line with Obama’s desired template for counterterrorism, as unveiled at West Point, in which the US trains foreign security forces to assault terrorists themselves.
Lisa Lundquist reviews why this is a terrible idea:
At this point, it is not entirely clear which vetted elements of the Syrian opposition can be relied upon to keep the arms out of the hands of the jihadists groups who dominate the battlefield, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front.
As The Long War Journal has documented over the past year at least, in numerous instances previous US efforts to equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels have been compromised by the frequent partnering of ‘moderate’ and Islamist forces, as well as by the sheer power of the Islamist forces themselves. [See Threat Matrix report, Arming the ‘moderate’ rebels in the Syrian south.]
It is difficult to see how throwing another $500 million into the Syrian morass will effect a positive outcome. Jihadist forces currently control virtually all of the border crossings into Syria from Turkey and Jordan (not to mention Iraq) through which Western aid would flow. It is a well-known fact that these jihadists determine the distribution of such supplies once they come into Syria.
Also, the FSA’s leadership was apparently just sacked. Aren’t these the ones we’d theoretically be helping? Or maybe it was a precondition:
Syria’s opposition government sacked the military command of the rebel Free Syrian Army late Thursday over corruption allegations, as the White House asked lawmakers for $500 million for moderate insurgents. A statement by the opposition government said its chief Ahmad Tohme “decided to disband the Supreme Military Council and refer its members to the government’s financial and administration committee for investigation”.
The decision came amid widespread reports of corruption within the ranks of the FSA, which is backed by Western and Arab governments in its battle to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The government in exile said it was also sacking FSA chief of staff Brigadier General Abdelilah al-Bashir.
There’s one silver lining. The initiative, as neocon Gary Schmitt argues, “has all the appearances of being a strategy for appearing to do something without actually doing much of anything”:
Five hundred million is a pittance when it comes to these kinds of operations. Much like the one billion for new defense initiatives in Eastern Europe in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it amounts to a smidgen here, and a smidgen there.
The truth of the matter is that the Obama team has let things get so out of hand in Syria that they have little interest now in actually removing Assad from power. Indeed, with ISIS on the move in Iraq, Assad, along with Iran, has in effect become an ally in that conflict. At best, this new effort is a campaign to keep the killing going so that no one group is finally successful. But of course conflicts are not like backfires, in which a fire is deliberately set in the path of an oncoming fire with a goal of having the oncoming fire burn itself out. These kinds of “fires” will jump that line and typically increase the conflagration—as we have already seen in the case of Syria over the past three years as the conflict has spread to Lebanon, Iraq and perhaps soon, Jordan.
Schmitt sees that as a bad thing, of course. But then he can write phrases like “the Obama team has let things get so out of hand in Syria” as if this entire crisis is simply a function of whatever America decides – or doesn’t decide – to do. Maybe Obama’s initiative is a way to fob off the hyper-ventilating hegemonists and buy some time. I sure hope so. The last thing we should want is for this kind of meddling to be in any way impactful.