Regular Harry’s Place readers will know that while I find much to admire about Barack Obama, and much to support in his record as president, I have been deeply critical of his outright failures to deal properly with Syria since the popular uprising against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.
Unfortunately I can’t say that recent events have made me any more confident.
The AP reports:
No more than five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels are fighting the Islamic State, astoundingly short of the envisioned 5,000, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East told angry lawmakers on Wednesday. They branded the training program “a total failure.”
After the first 54 fighters were sent in to fight in July, a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida attacked the group, killing several and taking others hostage while many fled. Asked how many remain, Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “It’s a small number. … We’re talking four or five.”
Congress has approved $500 million to train Syrian fighters, and officials have said fewer than 200 are going through training now. One of the problems has been that many Syrian fighters want training and equipment to fight the government forces of President Bashar Assad, but the U.S. program is limited to rebels who agree to only battle the militants.
Yes, that is a problem. A big one. Especially when it is the Assad regime, even more than the Islamic State, that is responsible for the human catastrophe in Syria that is killing hundreds of thousands and creating millions of refugees, thereby strengthening the extremist rebels.
Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state, has been critical of his approach to Syria, and continued to be so on Sunday:
She called President Barack Obama’s program to train some Syrian rebels a washout and implied that it came far too late to be effective. She had recommended training and equipping the irregular rebel forces while they were coalescing in 2011 and 2012 to fight the dictatorship of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.“I did recommend at the beginning of this conflict that we do more to help train those who were in the forefront,” Clinton said. “That was not the decision that was taken at that time. A lot of what I worried about has happened,” including a power vacuum that has allowed the rise of Islamic State militants, Clinton said.
Obama’s current secretary of state, John Kerry, didn’t help clarify matters when he said in an interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 that IS “is, obviously, the most significant player in the massive migrant crisis that’s sweeping through Europe.”
As Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies observed, that is a “factually-incorrect statement that helped validate the Assad narrative on the refugee crisis.”
Finally, I’m not sure what Kerry hoped to achieve by saying that “Assad has to go” but that there is some flexibility about when.
“We’ve said for some period of time it doesn’t have to be done on day one, or month one, or whatever,” he said. “There’s a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this could best be achieved. I don’t have the answer as to some specific time frame. I just know that the people of Syria have already spoken with their feet. They are leaving Syria.”
With Russia bulking up its military presence in Syria and cooperating with Iran to help Assad’s regime survive, I’m not sure whom Kerry expects impress or win over by these statements. Certainly not the suffering people of Syria.