President Obama is doing what he said he’d never do — send American troops to Syria:
President Obama will deploy a small number of American Special Operations forces to Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria to help local forces fight the Islamic State, the White House announced on Friday.
The team will advise and assist opposition forces who are fighting the Islamic State militant group in Syria, providing smoother and quicker access to equipment and logistical help, an official said before the announcement. The decision adds a new level of risk to the Syrian enterprise, as it could bring the Special Operations troops into closer contact with the Islamic State, even if they are in Kurdish territory.
While administration officials characterized the deployment as an enhancement of current strategy, it is actually a huge shift for a president who has said repeatedly that he will not put American combat boots on the ground in Syria.
Huge shift indeed. Courtesy of The Federalist, here’s a nice lineup of White House promises that are apparently no longer operative:
"We're not considering any open-ended commitment. We're not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach." —President Obama on #Syria
— White House Archived (@ObamaWhiteHouse) August 30, 2013
President Obama: "I will not put American boots on the ground in #Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan."
— White House Archived (@ObamaWhiteHouse) September 11, 2013
— White House Archived (@ObamaWhiteHouse) September 9, 2013
Presidential promises notwithstanding, if national security requires boots on the ground in Syria, then put boots on the ground. However, while I believe the Iraq war resolution still empowers American efforts in that country, I don’t think it extends to Syria. It’s time for a congressional authorization, one that would not only empower this president to act against ISIS but succeeding administrations as well.
In addition, while I support providing American support to our Kurdish friends, I’m extremely skeptical of direct aid to other Syrian “allies.” Moreover, with a strong Russian presence in-country, is there an an American end-game that’s remotely compatible with Putin’s strategic objectives?
I’ll repeat what I said days ago:
There are no best-case scenarios, only least-worst outcomes, and at this point the least-worst outcome may require America to defeat ISIS in Iraq, diminish Iranian influence over Baghdad, and step-up the air campaign in Syria to secure Kurdish gains in the north and prevent ISIS from reinforcing its forces in Mosul and Anbar province. In other words, leave Putin to his Syria war, restore American power and prestige in Iraq, protect the Kurds, and break up the emerging Lebanon-to-Iran axis of Russian and Iranian control.
And let me add this — any use of force to pursue American strategic aims should be overwhelming. Politically correct rules of engagement and pinprick strikes merely prolong the conflict. If we’re going to fight, then let’s fight.