US shifts in the wind, again, on arming Syrian rebels

Five days after dismissing as a “fantasy” the notion that supplying arms to the moderate Syrian opposition would have toppled the Assad regime, President Obama is now asking Congress to approve $500 million to fund and equip “moderate” Syrian rebels, the BBC reports.

“This funding request would build on the administration’s longstanding efforts to empower the moderate Syrian opposition, both civilian and armed, and will enable the Department of Defense to increase our support to vetted elements of the armed opposition,” the White House claimed.

At this point, it is not entirely clear which vetted elements of the Syrian opposition can be relied upon to keep the arms out of the hands of the jihadists groups who dominate the battlefield, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front.

As The Long War Journal has documented over the past year at least, in numerous instances previous US efforts to equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels have been compromised by the frequent partnering of ‘moderate’ and Islamist forces, as well as by the sheer power of the Islamist forces themselves. [See Threat Matrix report, Arming the ‘moderate’ rebels in the Syrian south.]

It is difficult to see how throwing another $500 million into the Syrian morass will effect a positive outcome. Jihadist forces currently control virtually all of the border crossings into Syria from Turkey and Jordan (not to mention Iraq) through which Western aid would flow. It is a well-known fact that these jihadists determine the distribution of such supplies once they come into Syria.

While the goal of halting the Islamists’ advance in Syria and now Iraq is a worthy one, the means put forth so far by the Obama administration have fallen far short. And ironically, it is now the warplanes of the Assad regime that are trying to defend US ally Iraq from the latest incursions of the ISIS.

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  • Scott J says:

    I think this administration has lost touch with reality. This is crazy.

  • Lint says:

    Keystone Cops anyone? It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.

  • Arjuna says:

    This series of decisions by President Obama to (a) ignore the ISIS (Al Qaeda) threat growing in Iraq since our departure, (b) not interdict immediately as ISIS stole millions in war materiel and spirited it to Syria, and (c) focus back on inflaming further the Syrian conflict where Assad is the best outcome for stability and peace and long-term US (as opposed to Israeli) interests, makes me question whether America can long survive with leaders like Obama and George Bush. Bush took us into Iraq on flimsy/false pretenses when we had oodles of unfinished work to do in SW Asia. We bit off more than we can chew, and we’re losing two wars as a result, plus the one we lost at home on 9/11, plus the big one brewing in the ME that we will be most at fault for creating. Ouch!

  • Joseph says:

    Does Obama have America’s enemies right where he wants them?
    Or is this a down payment on us sitting on the sidelines for a possible game changing war?

  • Ant says:

    Why cant we track the equipment? I mean we have the technology. We can watch the proliferation of it and follow the patterns. Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I ask too much to mark the food aid as well since most of it gets confiscated especially in tribal areas. If we really ARE tracking why aren’t we seeing results?

  • Ant says:

    I don’t think we can blame just one administration. There are multiple groups fighting with each other. how do we decipher whom we side with? If we side with the Shia then we are siding with Maliki, and the Iranians. If we side with the Saudis, then we side with the Sunnis. The Kurds? They want their own state…I mean I’m not totally privy to the situation but I know sectarian violence has been going on for centuries. How do we stop something that started before we were even born?

  • Neo says:

    Trying desperately to appear to be doing something (anything) about the problem without actually doing anything. To what political ends, I really don’t know at this point. I wish Obama would come clean. The political reality of this is the Obama administration has no political support for another round of war from either party. Had they wanted to engage in some sort of decisive action this administration could at best count on tepid support from around 1/3 of the Republican party and even weaker support from around the same number of Democrats. At the first sign of engagement that support would instantly evaporate. You can’t go to war with that even when you can justify action. The administration itself has no stomach for action at this time and undermines its credibility by saying otherwise.

  • Ant says:

    I think I understand what your saying but at what extent? What should this administration do that you would do different? Who would you arm? Who would you bomb? Which side do you take? Shia, Sunni, Kurd? Alawites?

  • Minnor says:

    Obama supporting sunni side is nothing new, arming syria rebels will go to ISIS eventually.
    In the meanwhile pilots from Iran will bomb militants using planes from Russia.

  • jean says:

    They don’t need to provide weapons, in the great tradition of Arabic Used Car salesman; ISIS will put aside their differences with the “moderates” in order to make a buck. Look for the captured equipment to move to Syria, Afghanistan. BTW the Kurds are notorious car thieves and opportunists.

  • Jonathan says:

    500 millions ?
    Half of it, 250 millions, will be lost in corruption, embezzlement, of various FSA political and military cadres (the guys without any military serious forces, or at best some hundred of men, you know ?).
    100 millions will be stolen directly by alNosrah at the border.
    50 millions will be used to pay teenagers or the parents of them to fight agaisnt the Syria army.
    The remaining 100 millions will maybe be used to buy weapons, that AlNosrah, ISIS or other extremist salafist will finally capture sooner or later.
    The Syria governement will never collapse even if you kill Assad and bomb them, there will always be a loyal army and moderate people to fight the salafist terrorists, thought US gov. finally understood it. That money will just extend the conflict and reinforce alQaeda-allied groups.
    If they really have 500 million $ to give to someone, better to give it directly to the Syrian governement, at least here we’re sure it will be used against our alQaeda ennemies !

  • My2Cents says:

    @ Neo — you beat me to it.
    @ Ant
    After obfuscating for over a year Obama is suddenly proposing a large amount of support, but, as anyone who has followed the revolt is Syria knows, it is far too late to have any impact. The reason is to create the appearance of taking action to increase pressure on the western part of the ISIS and divert manpower from Iraq. However, Obama does not appear to be willing to expend the political capital in Congress to get it passed, so this is all just for show. Even if passed immediately it will be months before there would be any impact.

  • Joseph says:

    Perhaps after this mess is over, ‘Moderate Syrian Rebel’ will be a punchline. Feels like one.

  • Dan says:

    This is a very serious and farcical decision. Typical of a CiC who is surrounded by hideously incompetent people and whom is exceedingly incompetent himself. The sum requested is similar (in figure) to what Charlie Wilson garnered to fund the Mujahideen in the Soviet War in Afghanistan. And look how that turned out.
    This is a clear demonstration that Obama still has not ironed out an effective Foreign Policy. This decision will insure islamic militancy proliferates in the region for years to come. Unbelievable.
    As LWJ has regularly reported, all “rebel groups” in Syria have at once time or another conducted joint operations with islamist forces. There are not distinct lines between “moderate” and “extreme”. This request is absurd.
    Watch this propaganda video from the ISIS. This is a group who has benefitted from Obama’s “foreign aid” packages already. And whom commit utterly atrocious crimes every day in Iraq and Syria.
    Obama and his cartel(s) want al Assad gone. I am most interested in who he believes will lead Syria better than the current regime. This is a complete recipe for disaster.

  • Joseph says:

    Joking aside, I feel like it’s backwards day when I’m rooting for Congress to knock the President’s proposal down.
    While we’re at it, this is a clear case for limitations on a Presidents war time powers and ability. In all cases.

  • Jeff Logan says:

    3 simple rules Obama has to recognize:
    1. There are no good guys in a war, especially in a civil war.
    2. ‘Moderate killers’ is a oxymoron.
    3. Muslims would cooperate with Muslims first.


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