The PJ Tatler

Looking for Mr. 'Moderate Syrian Rebel'

In the end, I suspect they will be able to hold a convention of “moderate Syrian rebels” in a space larger than a phone booth but smaller than a room at the Holiday Inn.

But the New York Times is, forever, hopeful:

Groups identified by Western intelligence agencies as the moderate opposition — those that might support democracy and respect human rights — have been weak, divided and without coherent plans or sustained command structures capable of toppling the Assad regime. Today, those so-called moderates are even weaker and more divided; in some cases, their best fighters are hard-line Islamists.

Get that? There, indeed, are moderate rebels — except when they’re hardline Islamists. The Times is turning itself inside out trying to make sense of Obama’s policy and ends up twisted into a pretzel.

In April 2013, Mr. Obama authorized the C.I.A. to begin a secret mission to train Syrian rebels in Jordan. The total number trained so far is between 2,000 and 3,000. Last September, the C.I.A. began delivering light weapons like rifles and ammunition to a rebel faction commanded by Gen. Salim Idriss, whom Americans considered a competent leader and whose forces were not connected to terrorist groups. But since then, the Supreme Military Council, which General Idriss headed, has broken apart, and he has been sidelined. Its weapons and supply storerooms have been looted by Islamist groups or stolen by its members.

Don’t worry — we are in the very best of hands.

As the ISIS threat became clearer, Mr. Obama announced a plan in June to spend up to $500 million to send some American Special Forces troops to train as many as 3,000 rebels over the next year, but it stalled in Congress. Now the administration proposes training twice that number of fighters in neighboring countries in the Middle East, including a facility that Saudi Arabia has agreed to host.

One complication is the federal ban on sending military aid to people with a history of human rights abuses. The C.I.A. has been working for some time to vet the Syrian rebels, but on a limited scale; the expanded mission, which would include more fighters, is likely to make vetting even more difficult.

Beyond that, there are bigger questions. The main target of the United States right now is ISIS, but for the mainstream rebel groups, getting rid of Mr. Assad is the main goal. How do you reconcile those competing goals? How do you avoid a flare-up of anti-American sentiment? The Assad government and its allies Russia and Iran have condemned Mr. Obama’s plans, but how will they react when the military campaign begins? And how can weapons shipped to rebel fighters be kept out of the hands of ISIS?

There is no reconciling the twin goals of getting rid of Assad and ISIS. There is no uniting the various factions — at least under the rubric of a secular, “democratic” opposition. There’s nothing we can do to stop Russia and Iran from giving arms to Assad, or running diplomatic interference for him at the UN.

One week, the president admits he has no policy to deal with ISIS and the next, presto! A policy magically appears. Does anyone else get the feeling that this “policy” has been thrown together haphazardly and without careful thought as to the consequences?

About what we’ve come to expect with our new and improved “smart” foreign policy.