Despite the repeated talk over the years, we've done virtually nothing to help the rebels we'd prefer to see emerge victorious in Syria:
As the U.S. considers the possibility of launching airstrikes in Syria against the Al Qaeda breakaway group Islamic State, President Obama last week emphasized the need to more effectively support moderate rebels in Syria. But commanders there say they have not been included in any discussion of U.S. airstrikes or additional weapons, underscoring the shaky and limited partnership the Americans have with their only Syrian allies.
"There is no coordination. We have no news ... we have no details," said Jamal Maroof, commander of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, another TOW recipient with fighters in northern and southern Syria.
Congress has yet to approve a $500-million arms and training program proposed by Obama in June, and the rebels — Western-backed as well as other groups — continue to mostly rely on outdated spoils of war seized from the Syrian army in their fight against the government of President Bashar Assad.
Syrians who want to oust Assad very naturally gravitate to the forces that have the means and will to fight Assad. Unfortunately, the jihadis have a lock on the latter and by default have the edge on the former. So naturally, many non-jihadis gravitate to the jihadis to fight.
And don't forget the element of fear of failing to join the jihadis in the jihadi recruiting pitch.
If we start to seriously support the non-jihadi rebels, success will build on success as the non-jihadis move back to the non-jihadi groups who can now fight. We can't help the non-jihadis on the fanaticism that makes jihadi rebels so dangerous, but with intelligence and advice and eventually air support, we can help them make effectiveness a rival for fanaticism in the fight against Assad.
And those who adopted jihadism lightly will eventually discard it, too, leaving only the hard core jihadis in ISIL and the other non-ISIL jihadi groups.
I'll repeat, if I was announcing a multi-year campaign against the Islamic State, I'd want to carry it out in a way that does not benefit Assad (or Iran), with three-step, four part plan.
Step one is to use air power to support effective ground groups to spearhead an offensive against ISIL in Iraq. This must include stripping away the Sunni Arabs of Iraq from backing ISIL in a new Awakening. And it must include forming core ground forces supported by our special forces that can exploit our (including whatever allies help us) air power to make effective counterattacks southwest from the Kurdish region of Iraq; north from the Baghdad region; and west from the Baghdad region into Anbar.
Concurrent with the first step, the second part is that we arm non-jihadi rebels while making limited air strikes against ISIL in Syria that help protect that non-jihadi rebels and to interdict Syria-based ISIL from reinforcing Iraq ISIL. We want to freeze this part of the conflict without effectively aiding Assad.
After ISIL in Iraq is rolled back and after non-jihadi rebels in Syria are strengthened, we can then unleash the second step (and third part): a campaign against the Syria portion of ISIL with some confidence that non-jihadi rebels fill the void of defeated ISIL in the east of Syria, allowing them to gain the assets of the east to continue the war against Assad.
The third step (and fourth part) is to support the non-jihadis to defeat Assad. With his forces bleeding and reeling from years of losses among his small base of support, the prospect of fighting on against real American support for the rebels might be too much for his forces to handle.
I'm already for victory in the next war. Let's re-win the Iraq War, shall we?
UPDATE: Oh, and one more thing. I'd make extensive use of those pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia militias to spearhead the attacks on ISIL. Let's take a page from the Chinese Communists who sent the former Nationalist soldiers to die in the Korean War to kill two birds with one stone.
UPDATE: The silence of the lambs. Tip to Instapundit.