Equipping “Moderate” Rebels

Today, we will not be discussing the Democratic debate, because we didn’t learn much new. The leading Democrats remain unapologetically bad on foreign policy–at one point Hillary Clinton bragged about Libya as a success and no one called BS. That’s about as bad as it gets. And unfortunately the one candidate who wants to make his campaign about having a peaceful foreign policy, Lincoln Chafee, did not make a strong showing. And with that, we’ll move on for now.

Which brings us to our lead story today — this week we received additional evidence of just how moderate our allies in the region really are. The Daily Beast ran this headline Monday: Syria Rebels Plan Suicide Attacks On Russians. The article is worth reading just so you don’t think I’m a conspiracy theorist on this. And while technically, the rebel source for the article says his specific group hasn’t received US backing, his group is part of the broader Free Syrian Army coalition that we tout as one of the major moderate groups. And coincidentally, even this guy, who plans to mastermind suicide bombing attacks claims that he’s still one of the moderates. You can’t make this stuff up.

Recently, the US abandoned its efforts to create and arm an entirely new rebel force. There are several reasons why the program was dropped, including the fact that some US-backed rebels expressly gave their weapons to Al-Qaeda (one example of this is discussed here). Perhaps an even more significant reason was that the US couldn’t find people moderate enough to train. That is, when the US went to vet the people it recruited, it had to kick a lot of them out of the program because they were deemed too extreme. That was the leading explanation given by Defense Secretary Ash Carter for why the program had graduated so few people, as this piece at the Christian Science Monitor makes clear.

Unfortunately, the end of the train and equip program is not the end of US involvement. Instead of training and equipping, our new plan is to just equip the people already fighting now. Indeed, Fox News is reporting that we just dropped 50 tons of ammunition that were received by rebels. But as discussed above, the reason the last program failed is because we couldn’t find enough moderate forces to begin with. So the question is, who are we equipping now? Most likely, the answer is anyone willing to fight Russia, Assad, or ISIS. We’re just pouring more weapons into chaos, with no conceivable goal in sight, which is kind of what we’ve been doing all along. But now we’re not just destabilizing a marginal power in the Middle East, we’re also escalating a proxy war with Russia.

Whatever one may think of Russia’s actions in Syria thus far, it’s clear that a proxy war is not going to help anyone. Not Americans, not Russians, and definitely not Syrians.

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