Lack Of Syria Policy Speaks Volumes About US Policy In Middle East

After continuously resisting calls to arm forces opposed to Syrian dictator Bashir al Assad, the Obama administration announced earlier this year it had established a program aimed at training 5,000 anti-Assad rebels. This week, the Pentagon conceded the program had only trained 5 rebels and it would be placed in the proverbial trash can after spending $570 billion as part of the Syrian reset.

“I remain convinced that a lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria will depend in part on the success of local, motivated, and capable ground forces. I believe the changes we are instituting today will, over time, increase the combat power of counter-ISIL forces in Syria and ultimately help our campaign achieve a lasting defeat of ISIL,” said Defense Department chief Ash Carter in a statement.

For months critics of the administration’s tactics have stressed the importance of having Arab ground forces in Syria, but that full support has to be given to such an effort, as Eli Lake noted in a September editorial in Politico.

“We will never know if earlier support to the armed opposition would have led to a rapid regime-change and spared Syria from civil war; but it is logically difficult to understand why efforts to overthrow the regime then would not have led to the same degree of relentless counter-escalation we saw later, or why it would have been more successful when the regime forces were fresh and the opposition was in its infancy than they have been since,” he wrote.

US policy is Syria reflected President Barack Obama’s determination not to be drawn into a regional conflict, but the hands-off policy of inaction was one doomed to fail.

Before, during, and after the Arab Spring, one thing has remained constant in the Middle East: the outsized influence of outside powers. When the United States opts to remain disengaged—itself a conscious policy choice—others move to fill the void. The convenient fiction that foreign powers can do little to respond to the conflicts or ‘ancient hatreds’ of the region belies nearly every major political development of the post-Arab Spring period,” Shadi Hamad wrote recently in The Atlantic.

By stepping back from the Middle East, particularly Syria, the US left behind a vacuum, which Russia quickly filled and has used to pursue its goal of propping up Assad. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argued this week in a Washington Post op-ed that the US must do more than psychoanalyze Russian President Vladimir Putin. They must act soberly and decisively to establish a military balance on the ground (with Arab forces) before trying to forge a political solution.


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