The U.S. strategy in Syria is unravelling, and it’s playing right into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Here’s are the key dynamics on the ground: Islamic brigades are coalescing after the largest Islamist rebel brigades rejected the planned government-in-exile of the Western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC); al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is expanding its territorial control by fighting Kurds and rebels; and Assad is laughing as ISIS goes after his enemies where he cannot.
Michael Young of Now writes that Assad’s strategy of not attacking the al-Qaeda groups — and even collaborate with them in certain districts — has worked astonishingly well, noting that the Obama administration has a lot to do with it.
This sentence from Young says it all:
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.
This echoes what Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution said earlier this week: The U.S. was worried about the rise of Syria’s Islamist rebels, which contributed to its unwillingness to arm the Supreme military council (i.e., the armed wing of the SNC), which had Islamists. That stance is now backfiring.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) confirmed the “high degree of frustration in the executive branch”
to Greg Miller of The Washington Post:
“The situation in Syria is changing faster than the administration can keep up,” Rogers said. He … said that U.S. support for moderate opposition groups is “less than robust” and has been hobbled by “inconsistent resource allocation with stated goals.”
The dysfunction can be seen in numbers of fighters: The CIA has trained fewer than 1,000 rebels while Iran and Hezbollah have trained more than 20,000 Assad militiamen and 20,000 “extremist” rebels fight with militant Islamist agendas, according to U.S. intelligence estimates.
At the moment America’s preferred resolution involves peace talks at Geneva II, but that looks like a pipe dream since the strongest forces on the ground don’t recognise the SNC.
Furthermore, the deal to disarm the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons gives Bashar al-Assad and his allies a boost while clipping American influence in the region.
Young ends his piece by referring to the president as “America’s Hamlet” because he is willing to “do everything to avoid doing anything.”