The literal DC turf war in Syria continues to rage between the CIA and the Department of Defense. The Los Angeles Times reported the fighting between a CIA-backed Syrian rebel group, Fursan al Haq, and the Pentagon-backed Kurds has intensified in the last two months.
The CIA operates part of its Syria program out of Turkey, where it provides Fursan Al Haq and others Saudi anti-tank missiles and other arms. The Kurds receive support from the Department of Defense to fight ISIS.
But there are significant tensions between them. The Kurds have a long and troubled history with the Turkish government and are currently fighting over the possibility of an independent Kurdistan.
Meanwhile, the US has 5,000 troops fighting in Iraq as the Pentagon drafts proposals to send in even more. The proposals come on the heels of news that the US has set up a new base in Iraq, which has drawn condemnations and threats from both Sunni and Shiite militants.
The US has also created its first base in Syrian territory.
All of which leads to the basic question: Does the US have an actual plan in Syria and/or Iraq? Because it certainly appears as though each action taken in the last year has been rather mindless.
In some cases, the most articulate critic of Obama Administration policy in Syria has been President Obama himself. He even proclaimed that the CIA program to arm and train the Syrian rebels was based on a “fantasy”–then continued it anyway.
Obama’s Hamlet routine was never more evident than in an interview he gave to former Israeli prison guard and Meir Kahan enthusiast Jeffrey Goldberg. In the interview, the president seems to resign himself to the US not being able to have the capacity for a positive influence in the region, suggesting the regional players will have to reach some sort of pragmatic accommodation:
[Obama] went on to say that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians—which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen—requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” he said. “An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”
And yet, that appears to be exactly what the US is doing directly in Iraq and Syria, as well as facilitating in Yemen, where US weapons are being used in Saudi war crimes.
It is not surprising that Obama wants to rhetorically distance himself from his own Middle East policy. The war for regime change in Libya he backed has had horrible consequences, as has support for Al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria. There is nothing to be proud of, other than not making even bigger mistakes.
Given the US has no real plan or interests at stake, it’s time for President Obama to get past rhetoric and actually untangle the US from these conflicts in the Middle East. Enough blood and treasure has been wasted in vain.