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Obama’s Unpersuasive Syria Spin

There is nothing quite as pathetic as a president blaming his opponents for his decision to give in to their stupid recommendations.
obama situation room syria
President Barack Obama meets with his National Security Staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013. From left at the table: National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Attorney General Eric Holder: Secretary of State John Kerry; and Vice President Joe Biden. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The administration is serving up some pretty pitiful spin to provide political cover for the complete failure of their plan to arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels:

By any measure, President Obama’s effort to train a Syrian opposition army to fight the Islamic State on the ground has been an abysmal failure. The military acknowledged this week that just four or five American-trained fighters are actually fighting.

But the White House says it is not to blame. The finger, it says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place [bold mine-DL] — a group that, in addition to congressional Republicans, happened to include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I’m all for holding Syria hawks responsible for their advocacy of terrible policies, but the administration can’t simply shift all the blame to its hawkish critics on this one. If members of Congress and some members of Obama’s administration “pressed” him to do something that he knew was pointless, he deserves even more blame for going along with an option that he knew wouldn’t achieve anything. There is nothing quite as pathetic as a president blaming his opponents for his decision to give in to their stupid recommendations. “It’s not my fault that I caved in to the demands of people who are always wrong about foreign policy” is not the argument one wants to be making.

Yes, Syria hawks have been wrong about the possibility and desirability of arming a “moderate” Syrian opposition, and I have objected to the idea from the very beginning, but Obama eventually yielded to their bad arguments. The fact that he did so reluctantly and much later than they wanted doesn’t make the final decision to authorize a useless training program better. On the contrary, it makes that decision even less defensible. Earlier in the debate over Syria policy, Obama rejected the recommendation of several top people in his administration to do this and he was right to reject it. He then backtracked and reversed himself when “arming the moderate opposition” became a way to placate his hawkish critics in 2013, and he recommitted to this bad idea as part of the war on ISIS after he expanded it into Syria. Those are things that Obama chose to do, and he was wrong in both cases.

Now that the effort to arm and train a “moderate” opposition has completely failed, what the administration should be doing is reassessing the wisdom of continuing U.S. operations in Syria now that there is clearly no effective force on the ground that can be used to fight ISIS that the U.S. can work with. We all know that reassessment isn’t going to happen, but that would make a lot more sense than engaging in lame and unpersuasive finger-pointing for a bad policy that the administration foolishly endorsed against the better judgment of some of its members.



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