As the Obama administration tried to convince Congress to support intervention against the dictatorial regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the summer of 2013, officials insisted that only a quarter of Syrian rebels had ties to Islamic extremist groups. That turned out to be inaccurate. An estimate produced by IHS Jane’s found that nearly half were Islamic extremists.
Fast-forward to June 2014, when the administration asked Congress for $500 million to train and equip to several thousand so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels to, now, fight the Islamic State, which operates in Syria, as well as Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. Congress approved the funding request in December.
CNN reports, however, that the only 60 rebels have been vetted to participate in the program. Recruits cannot have any ties to terrorist organizations. “We make sure that they, for example, aren’t going to pose a green-on-blue threat to their trainers; that they don’t have any history of atrocities,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee of the vetting process on Tuesday.
“I expect that number to improve,” he said, “but you deserve to know the truth.
The plan was to train some 15,000-rebel fighters over three years. Although 7,000 potential recruits are currently being vetted, Carter’s testimony didn’t sit well with members of the committee, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prominent foreign policy hawk who has criticized the administration for its handling of the Islamic State, as well as not ousting Assad in 2013.
“I’ve got to tell you after four years [since the Syrian Civil War began], Mr. Secretary, that’s not a very impressive number,” McCain told Carter. McCain suggested that U.S.-trained fighters be allowed to target Assad’s forces, whom they aren’t trained to engage.
The numbers may be low because many would-be fighters are more interested in toppling Assad and taking control of Syria than fighting the Islamic State, which is just one extremist group fighting the regime. Others include al-Qaeda and Hamas. Hezbollah and Iran are supporting Assad.
The foreign policy venture in Syria is already proving to be a failure, and yet, it’s amazing that some, like McCain, want to United States to get further involved by allowing fighters to go after Assad’s forces in addition to fighting the Islamic State. It may not be as sordid of an affair as Iraq, but it could be.
If there’s anything our history of intervention has taught us is that we’re not very good at it. Perhaps we would be better served if, for once, we stayed out of the fight.