National Security

Arming 'Moderate' Syrian Rebels Is Questionable

Heeding the call to do something about ISIL.

Sep. 22, 2014

Heeding the call to do something about ISIL, Congress passed and Barack Obama signed a measure approving weapons and training for “moderate” Syrian rebels. These moderates are ostensibly fighting against the new Islamic upstarts but are also sworn to overthrow Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Obama has repeatedly assured Americans that no boots would be on the ground in Syria (or Iraq, for that matter), sending out National Security Advisor Susan Rice to state, “This program will be hosted outside of Syria in partnership with neighboring countries.” Rice added the process would take “many months,” which the administration hopes will be enough time to sort out all of the various regional players.

But there is plenty of skepticism – even from the CIA – that we’re training the right people. Given the fact that thousands of Iraqi soldiers we previously trained either turned tail or jumped onto the Islamic State locomotive as it steamed its way across northern and western Iraq earlier this summer, can we really expect that the Syrian rebels we choose to train won’t do the same if the tides of war turn against them? Or that they’ll focus on the correct target?

Meanwhile, top military brass expressed frustration with the lack of options being presented by Obama. “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” warned retired Marine Gen. James Mattis last week. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.” Obama’s promise not to put troops back into Iraq or directly expand the Long War to Syria seems to be aimed more at placating his leftist base than advancing America’s strategic interests.

Indeed, Obama doubled down on that promise again in his weekly address. “Going forward, we won’t hesitate to take action against these terrorists in Iraq or in Syria,” he said. “But this is not America’s fight alone. I won’t commit our troops to fighting another ground war in Iraq, or in Syria. It’s more effective to use our capabilities to help partners on the ground secure their own country’s futures. We will use our air power. We will train and equip our partners. We will advise and we will assist. And we’ll lead a broad coalition of nations who have a stake in this fight. This isn’t America versus ISIL. This is the people of that region versus ISIL. It’s the world versus ISIL.” And he isn’t George W. Bush. Therefore, no ground troops.

Even as Obama tries to walk the fine line between doing what’s necessary and what’s politically expedient in the short term, his fellow leftists aren’t buying into it. Instead, they demand he eschew any military option. Protesters from anti-war radicals Code Pink interrupted Senate testimony by Secretary of State John Kerry, prompting him to tell those women, “[Y]ou ought to care about fighting ISIL” because they are “killing and raping and mutilating women.” (Sort of like the American troops did in Vietnam, according to Kerry’s twisted version of history.) It was yet another reminder of the political calculation that led Obama to abandon Iraq in the first place.

It’s often been said that if you want to have something done right, you have to do it yourself. After five-plus years of feckless foreign policy that alienates our friends and comforts our enemies, we have to realize ISIL isn’t the “JV team” and can’t be eliminated by proxy. As opposed to the asymmetric war posed by al-Qaida, ISIL is fighting by more or less conventional means using weapons which, in some cases, we have provided – either through capture of Iraqi army munitions and equipment, or covertly to Syrian rebels through the CIA. As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) – one of the 22 senators who voted against the Syrians arms and training package – put it, we’re “dependent on unreliable actors in the region.”

Some of those “unreliable actors” will win the lottery of sorts by becoming American-trained, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll be fighting with American interests foremost in mind. In the end, only we can be trusted with that mission.

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