President Trump, listening to his advisors, has ended the semi-covert (it was well-known) program to arm and train anti-Assad rebels in Syria. I rarely disagree with Streiff at RedState, but this time I think the common wisdom is wrong.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the quaint little regional war that Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power fomented in Syria during the “Arab Spring” with the idea of overthrowing Bashar Assad was as chuckleheaded an idea to come out of any administration since Bay of Pigs. What had started out as war on the cheap mutated into a very ugly and protracted war and a humanitarian nightmare that is still in full swing.
I agree that the rainbow unicorn warriors of the Obama administration had no clue what they were getting into with Syria. I agree that getting Assad to leave is a fool’s errand. The only way to remove Assad is to kill him, and Russia is not allowing that to happen.
I also agree that Russia wanted us to end the anti-Assad support. Trump made the decision before leaving for the G20 meeting with Putin.
The media is harping on the fact that Russia wanted the program ended, so therefore Trump ♥ Russia. But that’s not the primary reason the program ended. Getting to a cease-fire was Trump’s goal, and this was one prerequisite. We got the cease-fire.
While the common wisdom (and Streiff’s opinion) is that this was a good move, not everyone agrees. Shmuel Rosner wrote in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday:
The United States and Russia are the cease-fire’s main architects. Jordan is also a party to it. Israel was consulted behind the scenes but had no official part in the agreement. Still, the agreement concerns a territory in which Israel has crucial interest: the border area between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. In this narrow strip of land, rebel forces that oppose President Bashar al-Assad of Syria still hold their ground. Reportedly backed by Israel, some of the more moderate rebel groups prevent forces influenced or controlled by Iran from getting too close to Israel’s border, one of Israel’s biggest security concerns.
Those “moderate rebels” are the ones the CIA was equipping. Streiff noted: “They are mostly funded/supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. And the Department of Defense program that is focused on ISIS will remain.” But that’s not fully true.
The Saudis are confused by America’s mixed signals, and the Turks are unreliable. The cease-fire and simultaneous withdrawal of America’s imprimatur for the Syrian rebels creates a power vacuum where those forces provided a buffer for Israel. Iran is more than happy to fill the vacuum.
Israel looks at this move, along with the cease-fire, as the U.S. disengaging in the theater, ceding influence to Russia, Assad, and Iran (and their Hizbollah proxies). Temporary and unsustainable wins and placating Russia are not a strategy.
Israeli planners believe that there is only one good solution to this strategic problem: for the United States to go back to being a superpower. Namely, to involve itself not just in the worthy cause of temporarily ending a current war, and not just in the important objective of defeating the Islamic State. The United States, being the indispensable superpower, must invest in the more calculated planning aimed at preventing a potentially more dangerous war. It must have a strategy for Syria.
Since the cease-fire had as a pre-requisite set by Russia to remove support for the anti-Assad rebels, there was no way to achieve it without that overt act. This exposes Israel (and the U.S.) to more dangerous threats. Once ISIS is defeated, do you think Iran and Russia will voluntarily give up their newfound positions?
I will grant that the anti-Assad rebels cause is fairly well lost–Assad is going nowhere. But they do have a purpose, and value to America beyond as a bargaining-chip with Russia. This move may have larger consequences than Trump’s advisors calculated. Or, rather, we may see it reversed fairly soon when the cease-fire falls apart.
In any case, the conventional wisdom on this program–regardless of its failures (some of the troops we trained ended up joining ISIS to fight against us) is very likely wrong and short-sighted.