Friday, September 18, 2015

America's Syria policy is a mess

Let's agree that America's policy in Syria is a mess. The blame should be widely shared. Peter Baker in the New York Times says the White House now argues that the President was always skeptical of arming and training moderate Syrian opposition, so "I told you so."

I would argue that the President deserves blame at least for failing to try to fix the program as its flaw became evident over the past two years. But the Pentagon also deserves blame for designing a program that was so slow and ultimately ineffective -- a half billion dollars producing only 4 or 5 soldiers.

But those in Congress now on their high horses shouting criticism are also to blame. There's some valuable background in this CRS report. But what I want to highlight is the law that Congress passed, Public Law 113-164. That law authorized funds only for limited purposes in Syria:
The Secretary of Defense is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals for the following purposes: (1) Defending the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and securing territory controlled by the Syrian opposition. (2) Protecting the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian people from the threats posed by terrorists in Syria. (3) Promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria.
And the only people who could be armed were limited to those who would fight ISIS, not Assad.
 The term ‘‘appropriately vetted’’ means, with respect to elements of the Syrian opposition and other Syrian groups and individuals, at a minimum, assessments of such elements, groups, and individuals for associations with terrorist groups, Shia militias aligned with or supporting the Government of Syria, and groups associated with the Government of Iran. Such groups include, but are not limited to, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al Nusrah, Ahrar al Sham, other al-Qaeda related groups, and Hezbollah. 
I'd agree that those conditions are nearly impossible to achieve. But that's the law. And if members of Congress now want a more robust force of Syrians, they'd better work to change that law.

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