- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

The Folly of Fighting Against Both Sides in Syria (II)

Micah Zenko picked up [1] on something important in recent Senate testimony from Secretary Hagel and Gen. Dempsey:

MCCAIN: How will we help them—will we repel Bashar Assad’s air assets that will be attacking them?

HAGEL: Any attack on those that we have trained and who are supporting us, we will help ‘em [bold mine-DL].

In short, because the U.S. is foolishly arming and training some of the Syrian opposition, the administration believes that it is also committed to defending them from regime attacks. Note that Hagel said that “any attack” on those opposition forces would trigger U.S. “help.” So the administration appears to have committed the U.S. to go to war against the Syrian government if the regime attacks U.S. proxies, which the regime almost certainly will continue to do. That would put our forces in the absurd and dangerous position of fighting both ISIS and the Syrian regime at the same time. The legal justifications for the ISIS war are laughably weak, but there is no legal justification in U.S. or international law for what the administration is proposing here. Just in case we might hope that this was just an off-the-cuff, meaningless answer from Hagel, his position was later confirmed [2] by the Pentagon.

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "The Folly of Fighting Against Both Sides in Syria (II)"

#1 Comment By tbraton On September 26, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

Well, even Administration officials concede that it will take at least a year to train a force of 5,000 “moderate Syrians” to fight ISIS, which is long enough for Obama to forget the promise. I personally think it will take far longer to find even 5,000 “moderate Syrian” fighters.

#2 Comment By James Canning On September 26, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

US attacks against Syrian army or other forces would truly be idiotic.

America should have tried to prevent eruption of civil war in Syria.

#3 Comment By Repetitious On September 26, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

Yes, let’s train and arm even more people. That’s bound to lower the level of violence and bring things under control …

The problem of course is that Obama and Hagel are already out of control. They have no authority whatever to wage war on Assad in Syrian territory. Once again we slide down the slippery slope prepared by interventionists in the media and government.

#4 Comment By Richard W. Bray On September 26, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

When Jimmy Carter was president, he unilaterally restricted weapons sales to Latin American countries and many people in those countries came to realize that they were better off without them.

Now it seems like our entire foreign policy is designed to benefit the arms industry–and also the vultures.

#5 Comment By tbraton On September 26, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

Frank Rich in NY Magazine pronounces a quagmire: “Could we be entering into another quagmire?”
“Yes. And no one knows this better than President Obama, whose political rise was tied to his opposition to “dumb wars” and who is nothing if not honest in warning that our new engagement in Iraq and Syria will last for an unspecified number of years, past his presidency. His open-ended, inchoate description of this war’s future is the very definition of a quagmire. . . .”

#6 Comment By cameyer On September 26, 2014 @ 7:13 pm

To James Canning: I agree 100% that the US should have attempted to prevent a Syrian civil war. I don’t think the Administration even considered this and actually added to the momentum of war. I have been researching what was happening in summer, 2011, when the toll was 2200 Syrians dead (ironically about the same as the recent Gaza war). Even then, however. Assad’s tactics showed he’d stop at nothing to crush his opposition.

1) The opposition was fractured, as we know. Tensions were strong between the Western backed exile groups and those on the ground in Syria. The question of the day: should the non-violent citizen protests take up arms to defend itself against Assad. At the time, the Local Coordinating Committees, a vital network of in-country activists who carried information from one opposition enclave to another and tallied casualties at the end of each day, came out firmly against any foreign interference or arming of the hitherto non-violent citizen-protesters.

2)On the international front: both Iran and Russia had cautioned Assad to pay attention to the legitimate demands of his opposition. Hillary came out with “Assad must go” yet the State Dept. desperately wanted a unanimous UNSC resolution calling for a cessation of violence and negotiations on a political solution to the crisis. If Russia came aboard, Assad would have to pay attention. I believe the State Department was trying to re-creat the ‘coalition’ that had ousted Qaddafi. But Russia, burned by the ‘humanitarian’ call to prevent a ‘bloodbath’ turning into regime-change in Libya, refused to sign on to any UNSC resolution calling for Assad to resign or assigning all responsibility for the violence to the Assad government.

3) In the US, Obama fought to keep the US from direct intervention in the Syrian crisis. At the same time, however, the Administration turned a blind eye to its ‘allies’ , the Gulf States and Turkey, arming their favorite opposition group to fight Assad. Intervention by allies or proxies is still intervention.

Could the US have been instrumental in avoiding a Syrian civil war? It may have been too late even at that early date. But I question why the State Department insisted that calling for Assad to resign had to be in a Security Council resolution if there was any chance Russia would have signed onto a resolution simply calling for a cease-fire and negotiations, and using its clout with Syria to achieve these two ‘limited’ goals. If you don’t ‘trust’ Russia, at least call its bluff.
It was clear a divided, leaderless mass opposition could not match Assad’s unrelenting assault, just as the Shia’s in Iraq after Desert Storm were not prepared to take on Hussein.

Who in the ‘opposition’ supported and encouraged arming the opposition and what was that based on? What happened to the LCCs whose website ended in Dec. 2013? Is the Free Syrian Army derived from the hundreds of thousands of Syrian protesters. What was their over-all strategy, political as well as military.

The Arab Springs were reform, not revolutionary, movements. Their intent was to replace the stink of ossified autocrats with elected governments, not to tear down every institution of state. Trying to turn a reform movement into armed struggle (either through internal developments or especially with external pressures) takes years.

Ask the ANC: building a movement with the proper leadership and organization to destroy Apartheid took 30 years. And they did it themselves.

#7 Comment By Nup On September 27, 2014 @ 11:00 am

The Syrian revolution started after few months of appointment of Ambassador to Syria after a long gap.

The USA ambassador and French diplomat traveled to meet the protesters.


Syrians alleged that death squad was formed to attack syrian govt and community leaders who disagreed with the revolution. Ambassodor Ford having been served in Iraq during a violent time.

The script didn’t work well. It failed both in Syria and in Iraq as well.

Following is from NY Times, 2012. 80,000 Christians were cleansed by the Free Syrian Army in the Homs province. While John McCain was arguing for more arms.


The USA govt still may be trying a govt change with the new money for arms.

#8 Comment By Empty Honors On September 27, 2014 @ 11:30 am

Every time I think of Obama’s “Peace Prize” I shake my head in disgust.

#9 Comment By Uncle Billy On September 27, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

Yes, yes, let’s arm those “moderate” Syrian Rebels. Do we think that they will be any better than that pathetic Iraqi Army vs. ISIS?

It’s all very discouraging.

#10 Comment By johnny On September 28, 2014 @ 11:21 am

Looks like they took out the context of more guns, less crime.