Ever since, as the BBC reported, the Pentagon admitted that only “four or five” Syrian rebels trained by the United States military are still fighting in the field, fingers are being pointed at the Obama administration for what is one of the biggest government-caused blunders in modern times. The military spent $500 million training the first batch of what was supposed to be a pro-western Syrian rebel army of 54 fighters. All but the four or five were reported to have either been killed or have deserted. The figure was later revised upward to nine.
Even if the four or five or nine Syrian fighters were genetically enhanced cyborg super-soldiers, a half a billion dollars would seem to be a steep price to train and deploy that number of fighters in the field. Similar amounts were spent in the 1980s to support and equip thousands of Afghan mujahedin who then proceeded to bleed the Soviet Army white. The Reagan-era program helped to bring about the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Obama administration has an answer for the debacle. The answer, oddly enough, does not consist of finding out what went wrong, fixing the problem, and then moving on to create a pro-western rebel army capable of overthrowing the Assad regime and of combatting ISIS. As Hot Air noted, the White House has decided to shift blame to the people who urged President Obama to pursue the strategy in the first place. That groups includes not only Republican hawks such as Sen. John McCain and Sen Lindsey Graham, but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Hot Air’s analysis is, as usual, spot on.
“What’s irritating Obama here is that he was destined for criticism, no matter what he did. If he had listened to the Rubios and McCains and started building a U.S. proxy force of rebels early, circa 2011, some of those trainees would inevitably have switched sides. Some would have murdered civilians. Some, simply by fighting effectively, would have been accused of doves here in the U.S. of keeping the war going when all Syrian civilians wanted was peace. Or would have been called a warmonger, repeating the alleged mistake the U.S. made in Afghanistan in the 1980s by arming the mujahedin against the Soviets. (sic)
“Meanwhile, if he’d done nothing at all — as opposed to next to nothing, which is what this modest, belated rebel training program amounts to — he’d be accused of not caring about Syria, of not lifting a finger of America’s massive military might apart from some ineffective bombing runs at ISIS to end the civil war there. All of the criticism he would have taken from doves if he’d intervened early would be reversed by hawks for refusing to intervene — an effective rebel force could have stopped ISIS before it gained momentum, it could have pressured Assad into accepting a peace deal and sectarian partition, and it could, in theory, have formed the germ of a new ruling regime that would have averted the Syrian refugee crisis.”
The middle-ground approach, which involved training a handful of fighters that were not intended to do anything, was meant as a gesture. Obama could point out that he was doing something, even though that something would not have any effect whatsoever on events on the ground. The president did not anticipate that the token effort would go so badly sideways, opening him to criticism anyway. Obama has proven incompetent even while conducting pretend efforts.
It would have been better for him had he decided to go one way or the other. Better still, he could have followed the advice of the hawks and intervened massively when there was still a large recruiting pool of pro-western Syrians and ISIS was still a “JV team” to quote the immortal words of the president. Now Obama has bought the worse of both worlds. He has done nothing to calm the chaos in Syria and stem the growth of ISIS. But what he has done has blown up in his face and made him look foolish and weak. In the meantime, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has filled the power vacuum left by the president in Syria with troops, arms shipments, and fighter jets.