A year ago, before public and congressional opposition changed his mind, President Obama planned to attack the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a brutal dictator whom he said had to go. This week Obama switched sides in Syria’s civil war by attacking the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Assad’s most formidable enemy among the rebels fighting to overthrow his regime.
Confused? You should be. Obama certainly is. Let us count the ways:
1. Obama has repeatedly promised that his war against ISIS will not involve U.S. ground troops in Iraq or Syria, but Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says they may be necessary. The White House argues that armed military “advisers” who call in air strikes, serve on the front lines, and could easily become involved in combat do not count as ground troops.
2. As proxies for U.S. soldiers in Syria, Obama is counting on the “appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition” whom Congress last week authorized the Pentagon to train and arm. On Tuesday he called them “the best counterweight to [ISIS] and the Assad regime.” But last month Obama told The New York Times the idea that U.S. assistance could turn “an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” into an effective fighting force “has always been a fantasy.”