Via RCP, training Syria’s dubious and largely nonexistent “moderates” is easily the weakest part of Obama’s ISIS strategy, and naturally it’s also the one part that he wants Congress to vote on. If the Republican House blocks him, O gets to hammer them in the press as the “party of no” that’s hurting the war effort against the jihadist monster. If the Republican House votes yes and then this plan turns out to be a huge bust on the ground, as we all expect, O gets to deflect blame by noting that the opposition party explicitly backed him on this element of his war plan. It makes all the sense in the world that Obama would want a vote on this. What doesn’t make sense to me is why Boehner would play along. If he and the GOP are willing to roll over and let O wage war on ISIS without congressional approval in every facet except this one, why not insist that he go ahead and use his “inherent authority” as commander-in-chief to take ownership of Syria’s “moderates” too?
BOEHNER: Based on all the information that I’ve looked at, the free Syrian army has by and large been very well vetted by our intelligence officials. Today they are in a fight against Assad. They’re in a fight against ISIL, and they are in a fight against another al Qaeda affiliate in eastern Syria. And they’re about to get run over. An F-16 is not a strategy. And air strikes alone will not accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish. And the president’s made clear that he doesn’t want U.S. boots on the ground. Well, somebody’s boots has to be on the ground. I believe what the president has asked for, as the commander in chief, has the authority to train these Syrian rebels. Frankly, we ought to give the president what he’s asking for.
I suppose he’s right: The Free Syrian Army has, in fact, been well vetted by U.S. intelligence. Here’s what the vetting turned up:
Senior U.S. intelligence officials say the official assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recommended against working with the Free Syrian Army. “The intelligence community assessment has no serious consideration to work with the Free Syrian Army to date,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said. “The folks sitting around the table today do not think we can work with them.”…
Concerns about working with the FSA in part stem from worries that elements of the opposition have in the past joined forces with Jihadist forces like al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Obama himself has expressed concern about this as well, telling New York Times columnist Tom Friedman earlier this month that arming the moderate Syrian opposition would have made no difference in the civil war there and the idea that moderate rebels could defeat the Assad regime was a “fantasy.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Daily Beast, “There are some elements of the Free Syrian Army, you have to identify and find and vet these individuals, we could work with.” But Rogers warned, “It has gotten much more difficult and complicated. Three years ago we had good options, two years ago they were less good options. Today it’s become very difficult.”
Some dissenting U.S. analysts think there are moderates still in Syria we can work with but good luck picking them out of the gigantic crowd of Sunnis currently fighting Assad. For the sake of my own sanity, I need to assume that this whole “training the moderates” thing is just a big ruse being cooked up by the Pentagon as a pretext for inserting more reliable Sunni forces into the fray in Syria against ISIS. The Saudis have already offered to host the “training”; presumably, a whole bunch of the “Syrians” who end up being sent back onto the battlefield are going to be Saudi, Iraqi, and Jordanian regulars with U.S. special forces support. They could hit ISIS where it lives while posing as locals so as to spare their governments the political headache involved in sending their troops into the Syrian maelstrom. (They’d also suddenly be well positioned to threaten their other enemy, Assad.) If I’m wrong about that and we really are depending upon Syrian non-jihadis to somehow overrun ISIS in the east, hoo boy.