By any measure, President Obama’s effort to train a Syrian opposition army to fight the Islamic State on the ground has been an abysmal failure. The military acknowledged this week that just four or five American-trained fighters are actually fighting.
But the White House says it is not to blame. The finger, it says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place — a group that, in addition to congressional Republicans, happened to include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At briefings this week after the disclosure of the paltry results, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, repeatedly noted that Mr. Obama always had been a skeptic of training Syrian rebels. The military was correct in concluding that “this was a more difficult endeavor than we assumed and that we need to make some changes to that program,” Mr. Earnest said. “But I think it’s also time for our critics to ‘fess up in this regard as well. They were wrong.”
In effect, Mr. Obama is arguing that he reluctantly went along with those who said it was the way to combat the Islamic State, but that he never wanted to do it and has now has been vindicated in his original judgment. The I-told-you-so argument, of course, assumes that the idea of training rebels itself was flawed and not that it was started too late and executed ineffectively, as critics maintain. [emphasis added]
Just ... wow.
It's not the president's fault! The president's political foes made him do it--in a manner least likely to be effective--and so it's their fault that the effort he made is failing so miserably.
If the president can be led along so easily to using force, I'm starting to think that we really do have to stop President Obama before he kills again, as he claimed.
And doing anything effective will be far more difficult and take much more time with Russian combat forces on the ground in Syria.
Putin bought a temporary air defense shield for Assad with the chemical weapons deal (that hasn't stopped Assad from killing--even with non-covered chemical weapons). And now Putin figures it is necessary and safe to use his own troops to defend his ally Assad.
Defeating Assad--which I had figured could be a later-stage mission in a campaign to defeat ISIL across Iraq and Syria--has to go higher on the priority list. If Assad falls, Russia and Iran (and Hezbollah, too) are defeated and then we can truly focus on defeating ISIL in Syria without giving Russia and Iran (and Assad) a victory as a side effect.
I had hoped that we could support enough non-jihadi rebels so we would have a viable force to support in a battle against ISIL, and then help hem move against Assad. But that assumed Assad would just be out there on his own, allowing us to defeat him at our leisure.
Now we can't wait for that force to be built to defeat ISIL before defeating Assad.
Is this the Smart Diplomacy we were promised to restore our reputation abroad?