I’m surprised. Aren’t important decisions like this usually left to President Ash Carter?

I guess a move this big requires Obama to briefly come out of retirement to announce it.

The White House will announce Friday that a small number of U.S. special operations forces will be sent into Syria, according to a senior U.S. official.

The senior U.S. official said that the forces will be stationed in northern Syria and working alongside groups with a proven track record of fighting ISIS. The move will be described as a “shift” but not a “change” in U.S. strategy against ISIS, the official added.

That could include Kurdish force and allied groups who have come together under the umbrella of the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet public.

That boldfaced line is Obama to a T. Two years ago he promised the country on camera that he wouldn’t send U.S. troops into Syria. Today he’s breaking that promise, but instead of saying so forthrightly, he needs some hairsplitting rhetorical device to let him claim that he’s been kinda sorta consistent in his approach. That’s what happens when your political persona is based on messianism. Messiahs don’t make mistakes. They may “shift,” but they certainly don’t “change.”

Per Reuters’s sources, we’re talking about no more than 60 Special Forces troops being deployed and possibly as few as 20-30. Those are some of the best soldiers in the world, but with numbers that small, obviously the goal here isn’t to hugely influence the wider war. Presumably it’s Obama’s version of a political compromise: He’ll send a handful of troops in to assist the Kurds and quietly take the lead on raids when liberating a prison or liquidating an ISIS leader is called for, but he’s not going to risk any headlines about a “growing U.S. death toll” in Syria. Having Special Forces on the ground might also be a way to make Russia think twice about targeting American-backed rebels from the air. If they hit a unit of anti-Assad Sunni fighters and it turns out U.S. troops were on the scene, all hell will break loose and they know it.

Anyway, tell me: How does this fit into the grand strategy, assuming that such a thing even exists at the White House towards Syria? You’re not going to take out Assad with 20 SEALs. This feels more like a goodwill gesture designed to show the Kurds that we’re kinda sorta there for them, albeit in a much smaller way than Putin’s been there for Assad lately. Either that or this is going to be a rapid-reaction force to act on intelligence on the whereabouts of top jihadis.

Via Mediaite, here’s Obama in 2013, before his retirement, assuring America that he certainly won’t pursue an open-ended poorly defined ground war in Syria, no sir.