By any measure, President Obama’s effort to train a Syrian opposition army to fight the Islamic State on the ground has been an abysmal failure. The military acknowledged this week that just four or five American-trained fighters are actually fighting.
But the White House says it is not to blame. The finger, it says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place — a group that, in addition to congressional Republicans, happened to include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At briefings this week after the disclosure of the paltry results, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, repeatedly noted that Mr. Obama always had been a skeptic of training Syrian rebels. The military was correct in concluding that “this was a more difficult endeavor than we assumed and that we need to make some changes to that program,” Mr. Earnest said. “But I think it’s also time for our critics to ‘fess up in this regard as well. They were wrong.”
There was never going to be an easy way forward in Syria. While there may — may — have been a window early in the Syrian Civil War when more-secular rebel forces could have made a difference, that time is long past. And even then, offering support for unproven rebels on the ground would have been fraught with risks (see, for example, Libya). But the Obama administration has made a difficult situation nearly impossible by pursuing one half-measure after another — red line/no red line, train/don’t train, bomb/don’t bomb. And it’s certainly not the critics’ fault when these half-measures fail.
Or perhaps this is all misdirection. As Allahpundit noted, since the early reports this week, we’ve almost doubled the American-trained rebel boots on the ground. He found this tweet:
There are now 9 US-trained fighters in Syria, #Centcom says, 11 more on the way
— Tara Copp (@TaraCopp) September 18, 2015
A $500 million, classified training program? A small number of fighters, but still potent enough to merit a Centcom announcment? Are there any well-funded and super-secret program could make a difference with a mere nine warriors? Hmm:
Oops. That’s only eight. Wait, I see you Vision:
That’s nine. We’re in better hands than I thought.