Why Syria’s Options Are So Bad

The incoherence of Western policy toward Syria goes back decades to Cold War covert schemes that thwarted a democratic turn – and to more recent neocon insistence on “regime change,” not negotiations. Those choices have now left the West with a set of unpalatable options, says Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

In Syria, the West finds itself stuck between the Islamic State and President Bashar al-Assad, fighting a war that the West doesn’t want either side to win. It fights the Islamic State enough to weaken it without a victorious Assad staying in power; it opposes Assad but not enough to take him and his forces out of the fight against the Islamic State. It is a war in which our “allies” fund and arm our “enemies,” and our “enemies” are our “allies.”

But it is worth remembering that it didn’t have to be this way. We didn’t have to get stuck with the choice of extremists or unfriendly dictator. Even leaving aside the contribution America’s war and post-war policies in Iraq made to the genesis of the Islamic State, the West didn’t have to be facing such a powerful network of extremists today.

A scene of destruction after an aerial bombing in Azaz, Syria, Aug. 16, 2012. (U.S. government photo)

A scene of destruction after an aerial bombing in Azaz, Syria, Aug. 16, 2012. (U.S. government photo)

As Vice President Joe Biden confessed during a 2014 talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School, “[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis.”

This financing and arming of extremist jihadis by our Mideast “allies” was not being done in secret, hidden from Washington by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other Sunni-ruled states. The Obama administration knew of it and tolerated it.

As David Ignatius of the Washington Post has reported, President Barack “Obama and the other US officials urged Gulf leaders who are funding the opposition to keep control of their clients so that a post-Assad regime isn’t controlled by extremists from Islamic State or al-Qaeda.” Obama did not order them to stop…

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