Additional funding for Syrian rebels was one of the spending items Congress didn’t approve in the last few days:
As Congress struggles to pass a bill to fund the government for the rest of the year, one curious and significant item was left on the cutting room floor: a request from the Barack Obama administration for $300 million to expand the secret CIA program to arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels.
The request, which administration officials had been lobbying for in recent weeks, was held up by the House Intelligence Committee, which has serious doubts about the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups that for years have been receiving arms secretly from the U.S. and its allies, two administration officials told me.
The committee members are quite right to have doubts about Washington’s proxies in Syria. It is more than a little strange that it has taken this long for members of Congress to realize that the groups that the U.S. has chosen to support aren’t reliable or effective, but I suppose it is better to acknowledge this now instead of waiting until later. That didn’t stop them from endorsing administration plans to arm and train these groups a few months ago, and it has done nothing to change the bizarre consensus view that the U.S. simply must find some faction in Syria’s civil war to support, but it’s a start. While this report has occasioned the usual complaints from hard-liners, the problem here isn’t that the U.S. is “abandoning” proxies that it was never that seriously committed to backing in the first place.
The real problem with U.S. policy in Syria and with the war against ISIS in particular is that the U.S. has plunged into a conflict in Syria before it considered any of the consequences of intervention. It is understandable that administration officials are disappointed “following the rebels’ losses to Assad, IS and the al-Nusra Front,” but they should also be willing to acknowledge that the decision to expand the ISIS war into Syria and the related decision to attack non-ISIS jihadist groups have significantly harmed the rebel groups that the administration envisioned as its anti-ISIS forces in Syria. If the U.S. is now perceived as “abandoning” the “moderate” rebels, this is only coming after the U.S. took military action that directly undermined them and drove many of them into the arms of jihadist groups. The correct response to this development is not to redouble U.S. support to “moderate” rebel groups, but to recognize that the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria has mostly worked to strengthen the hand of ISIS and other jihadist groups and to abandon this misguided policy before it makes things any worse than it already has.