On Twitter, Cuffy Meigs calls them “Obama’s Contras.”
Help me figure this out. Eight days ago, when the White House announced it would begin sending arms to the “moderates” on the ground inside Syria, the NYT reported this important qualifier:
The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.
You can understand the dilemma there. If you’re arming your proxies with nothing but light weaponry, you’re giving them next to nothing with which to fend off a professional armored force. But if you give them the heavy stuff, especially the sort of weapon that can bring down a plane, you risk seeing those weapons sold to or confiscated by the many, many superior jihadi forces on the rebel side. That’s the Syria conundrum in a nutshell — send a little aid and you might as well send nothing, send a lot of aid and before you know it commercial jets are being blown out of the sky by Al Qaeda. Do you want to win (“win” in this case means pushing Assad back until he’s ready to make concessions) or do you want to minimize the risk of terrorism to yourself? That’s the White House’s choice.
And now here comes the LA Times with breaking news:
CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders…
The two-week courses include training with Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter anti-tank rifles, anti-tank missiles, as well as 23-millimeter anti-aircraft weapons, according to a rebel commander in the Syrian province of Dara who helps oversee weapons acquisitions and who asked his name not be used because the program is secret…
The rebels were promised enough armor-piercing anti-tank weapons and other arms to gain a military advantage over Assad’s better-equipped army and security forces, said the Dara commander.
But arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, provided with assent from the Americans, took months to arrive and included less than the rebels had expected.
So our Sunni “allies” supply the weapons and our guys teach the locals (a small number of locals so far) how to use them. The anti-aircraft and anti-tank armaments will get there, one way or another, which presents a new dilemma. Should we show the moderates how to use them or should we leave them ignorant and risk having them sell them or trade them for weapons they’re more comfortable with? Or … why not let the Saudis and Jordanians train them? Each of those regimes has an even keener interest than we do in not seeing crazed Salafists running around with heavy weaponry in their backyards.
I don’t understand this plan of intervention by half-measures. Say what you will about McCain, and I’ve said a lot, but at least his heavy-footprint strategy is designed to quickly change the equation on the ground, whatever the considerable risks to the U.S. If the White House thinks it’s too risky to send anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian rebels, then why offer to train them in how to use them? If they’re reliable enough to be trained in it, why not send them anti-aircraft missiles ourselves? This reeks of Obama subordinating his military strategy to political considerations — we won’t give them big guns, because then he’s responsible if someone uses one to take down a jet, but we’ll show them secretly how to shoot to prove that we’re on the rebels’ side. Bizarre.