How Obama Walked Boehner and GOP Leadership Off the Syrian Rebel Cliff
One of the last acts Congress undertook before leaving Washington, D.C., in September for the midterm election break was to add $500 million in new funding to arm and train the so-called "vetted moderate" Syrian rebels. The $500 million in funding had been an agenda item for Obama since June, when ISIS began making quick gains in an offensive push back into Iraq.
But the political net effect of this vote was to get the GOP leadership in Congress to publicly buy into Obama's rapidly crumbling Syria policy. Led by Boehner in the House and McConnell in the Senate, the congressional GOP leadership allowed Obama to walk them off the Syrian rebel cliff.
As I reported here at PJ Media yesterday, the most important "vetted moderate" rebel groups are in retreat, having surrendered or defected to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria.
This development should come as no surprise to any member of the congressional GOP. In the week before the rebel amendment funding vote, I was asked to brief a number of GOP members and prepared a presentation on the collapse of the U.S.-backed Syria rebels that was widely circulated amongst both the House and Senate GOP conferences.
Among the chief trends I noted in these briefings -- and that I was concurrently reporting on here -- was that large groups of Free Syrian Army (FSA) units were defecting to al-Qaeda and ISIS, surrendering their U.S.-provided weapons along the way, and that other FSA units were forging peace deals and fighting alongside al-Qaeda and ISIS in some areas.
Even before the votes on the rebel funding, there was growing evidence that these "vetted moderate" forces were not moderate at all, and certainly would provide little assistance in fighting against ISIS.
Obama was hinting at where his policy was headed, too. Just a month before those congressional votes, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Obama said that the belief that arming the Syrian rebels would have changed the situation had "always been a fantasy":
With “respect to Syria,” said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”
Even now, the president said, the administration has difficulty finding, training and arming a sufficient cadre of secular Syrian rebels: “There’s not as much capacity as you would hope.”
Again, this was more than a month before congressional GOP leadership took up the cause of sending $500 million more to the Syrian rebels, even though there were reports that the FSA had already lost at least $500 million in arms to ISIS and other jihadist groups.
GOP leaders also bought in on another highly controversial element to Obama's Syrian rebel policy. In September 2013, it was reported that Obama had signed a waiver circumventing a federal law intended to prohibit aid from going to terrorist groups. But when GOP leadership rolled out their amendment to fund the "vetted moderate" Syrian rebels, it contained hardly any substantial limits to Obama's waiver policy.