Home/Daniel Larison/The U.S. Discovers That There Is No “Moderate” Syrian Opposition

The U.S. Discovers That There Is No “Moderate” Syrian Opposition

The U.S. program to train Syrian rebels has produced predictably meager results:

The United States was only training about 60 Syrian opposition fighters to battle Islamic State as of July 3, far below expectations, partly due to rigorous U.S. vetting of recruits, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress on Tuesday.

The report notes that the program was supposed to train more than five thousand. It has so far succeeded in training five dozen. That underscores just how ridiculous it was to think that there were ever many “moderate” opposition fighters that could have been “vetted” in the first place. In spite of everything, the U.S. remains bizarrely wedded to the goal of finding a proxy that it can claim as its own in Syria’s brutal civil war. If Obama were wise, he would recognize this as a chance to start extricating the U.S. from involvement in Syria that should never have happened. I have no confidence that he will do this, but I’d be glad to be proved wrong.

Naturally, the Post editors misinterpret the news:

Now, once again, the president is reaping the consequences of his half-measures. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter reported the pitiful result of the training program: After a year, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, just 60 Syrians were enlisted.

The result may be pitiful, but it is not from pursuing “half-measures.” Obama’s Syria policy has often suffered from trying to do just enough to satisfy both sides in the U.S., but in this case he committed the U.S. to train “moderate” rebels in Syria when there were virtually no “moderate” rebels to be found. Add to this the fact that most Syrian rebels are more interested in fighting Assad’s forces than serving as our ground forces in the war on ISIS, and you have a recipe for a rebel training program that would have next to no participants. This shouldn’t be viewed as a failure so much as it is an opportunity to put an end once and for all to the absurd idea that the U.S. has any business trying to back a side in Syria’s civil war. The U.S. absolutely shouldn’t relax its standards to bring in more recruits, it shouldn’t persist in its misguided goal of regime change in Syria, and it shouldn’t keep pretending that backing for any part of the Syrian opposition has anything to do with U.S. interests. This is a great chance for the U.S. to cut its losses and reassess what it is trying to achieve in Iraq and Syria. The last thing that the administration should do is listen to the advice of hawks that have been seeking deeper U.S. involvement in Syria for years.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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