Rafik Hariri Center Senior Fellow Frederic Hof writes for Politico on President Obama’s reluctance to arm the moderate opposition in Syria:
n June 2014, the Obama administration asked Congress for $500 million to train and equip nationalist Syrian rebels battling both the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Assad regime. Questions were posed then about the genuineness of the gesture: The request was emailed to Capitol Hill rather than made in person; it was unaccompanied by visits or telephone calls; there were no follow-up consultations; there was no order to the Department of Defense to reprogram funds to initiate activity quickly; and there was no evidence of an existing plan or overall strategy. Two months later, those questions seem to have been answered by the president of the United States. He says that arming nationalist Syrian rebels was never going to work anyway.
In an interview with the New York Times on Aug. 8, President Obama said the notion that ISIL’s rise could have been stopped or hindered if he had armed the secular, more Western-friendly Syrian rebels at the start of the civil war—a view recently endorsed by his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton—“has always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.’”