A Free Syrian Army commander reacts after rebels failed to capture a Syrian Army tank during clashes in Aleppo on April 29, 2013.
“When you get farmers, dentists and folks who have never fought before going up against a ruthless opposition in Assad, the notion that they were in a position to suddenly overturn not only Assad but also ruthless, highly trained jihadists if we just sent a few arms is a fantasy.” – Barack Obama to CBS on June 22
In one sentence, U.S. President Barack Obama disregarded the thousands of soldiers who defected from the Syrian Army since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The Washington Post asked The White House for statistics to Obama’s claim, which he has said twice in the last month, and was directed to the office of the Director of National Intelligence — which did not respond.
The reality is that tens of thousands of soldiers and high-ranking officers in Assad’s army defected early on in the war, many of whom subsequently formed the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). (The CIA has even been training enough moderate fighters so that Assad wouldn’t completely destroy the opposition.)
“There are tens of thousands of defectors from the Syrian military, many of whom fled to neighbouring countries (some were put into a refugee camp in Turkey), while others stayed to fight as part of the overall FSA,” Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the Post. “There was also the Supreme Military Council, the armed affiliate of the Syrian National Coalition, which also included a number of defected commanders. I met a lot of them in southern Turkey over the last few years.”
As The Institute of the Study of War detailed last year, the FSA drew on Syrian Army defectors to create a clear structure that gave it “the potential to serve as a check on radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority.”
The real problem, according to Tabler, was that “as assistance didn’t arrive, the defectors became disheartened so not sure where they all are at the moment.”
For the last two years, the main criticism on Obama’s policy toward Syria has been that the “United States, rather than read the signals early on and arm the Syrian opposition when it was making substantial gains, allowed a vacuum to form and then fretted when that vacuum was filled by jihadists.”
The rise of those jihadists — and the West’s role in allowing them to flourish — is described in a recent article by Rania Abouzeid in Politico:
“The Syrian revolution — and the hesitant, confused international reaction to it — paved the way for the resurrection of a militant Islam that would turn vast regions of Iraq and Syria into borderless jihadi strongholds and inch closer to redrawing the map of the Middle East — in practical terms if not on paper.”
State Department officials have been saying the same thing for years. So it seems that the only person who thought that the Syrian revolution didn’t stand a chance is President Obama.
And now, Obama is on the same side as Assad and his patron Iran — meaning that the parties who indirectly facilitated the rise of radical ISIS extremists are now trying to curb their advances.