Trump to Cut CIA Program That Arms Syrian Rebels. Good—Now Cut the Pentagon's Program, Too.

Don't let Russia hysteria torpedo a better foreign policy.


Juma Muhammad/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The Trump administration is reportedly cutting a CIA program that has provided arms to Syrian rebels since 2013. This has provoked a heated reaction from a media obsessed with Russia, and from Russia hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said such a decision would represent a "complete capitulation" to Bashar Assad, Russia, and Iran.

But if anything, the decision doesn't go far enough. Congress should tell the Defense Department to stop equipping, arming, and training Syrians as well.

These efforts go back to 2014, when the U.S. and Turkey partnered to aid "moderate" Syrian rebels. From the beginning, critics described the effort as a "disaster in the making." Militant factions backed by the CIA and the Pentagon have been fighting each other. U.S. arms have fallen into the hands of ISIS. Turkey, meanwhile, has become an increasingly unreliable partner as it descends into domestic authoritarianism.

So stopping the program, while a small step, makes sense. Yet hysteria over Russia has prompted many pundits and politicians to oppose the change. CBS claims that the "timing of the decision raises questions for the White House" because of a previously undisclosed conversation President Donald Trump had with Russia President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. But the "timing" isn't really suspicious: Trump called arming Syrian rebels a mistake as far back as September 2014, and he signaled after the election that he was likely to abandon the CIA arms program.

U.S. policy on Syria is too important to get lost in this sort of reality-TV politics. Nor should it be guided by the tautological idea that Washington should refrain from doing anything that might please a nation seen as "unfriendly" to U.S. interests. The Washington Post calls the decision to stop the arms flow a "move sought by Moscow." Yes, but it's also a move sought by a majority of Americans, and it has been for years.

Deployed now by Democrats interested in reigniting a Cold War with Moscow, the same "my enemy is my enemy" principle manifests when Republicans denounce the Iran nuclear deal. In neither instance does this produce good foreign policy results. Opposing the Iran deal merely because it might benefit Iran is no more sound than opposing disengagement in Syria merely because it might benefit Russia; the important question is whether it benefits the United States.

Unfortunately, Trump's Syria policy has been far from consistent. In April, the U.S. launched missile strikes against a government airfield there, assuming the same "world's policeman" role that Trump insisted on the campaign trail that the U.S. couldn't play anymore.

And the CIA program isn't the only way Washington has been arming combatants in Syria's civil war. Last December, Congress passed a bill authorizing the then-incoming Trump administration to give anti-aircraft weaponry to "vetted" rebels in Syria. The Pentagon authorization bill now making its way through Congress continues to cover Defense Department efforts to arm Syrian rebels. Only Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) voted against it after mark-up in the House Armed Services Committee, over concern that there wasn't enough oversight. It deserves to go on the same scrap pile as the CIA's effort.

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  1. The Washington Post calls the decision to stop the arms flow a “move sought by Moscow.” Yes, but it’s also a move sought by a majority of Americans, and it has been for years.

    Clearly the majority of Americans are being controlled by the Kremlin.

      1. Did Russia Hack American Brains Before Election? Anonymous sources say ‘Maybe’

        1. It is indisputably true that no anonymous source I have consulted has denied that Russians tried to influence Americans’ brain activities during the election.

    1. i have been drinking much more vodka lately.

      1. I blame games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and METRO 2033. I started playing them, and now I own several Adidas tracksuits and shoes, I squat outside with my friends and eat semechki and drink kvass. I thump loud hardbass out of my grandmama’s old hatchback. I even swear in Russian, you cyka.

  2. Not sure if you saw this Eddo*, but the US has been sending armored vehicles into Syria, vehicles almost certainly used by U.S. special operators.

    *That’s what I call Ed. He loves it.

    1. We’re not doing “KrayKray”?

      1. Are you a fat black woman from 5 years ago?

        Then no.

          1. Then you’ve violated causality and killed us all.

            1. [snaps fingers, moves head like a cobra] Unh uh!

  3. Who gives a shit about this when they’re carrying the OJ parole hearing live on TV? Journalists know what’s important, and Syria ain’t it.

  4. Fun fact: The Hysteria Torpedo was my nickname in college.

  5. the fuck is a Syrian rebel?

  6. Where mah Humans of FreedomFest Part 2, Sara Rose???

    1. I imagine we’ll get three more tomorrow, and then the whole HoFF thing will run out of steam.

      1. Threesomes can be exhausting that way.

  7. a CIA program that has provided arms to Syrian rebels since 2013.

    June, 2012

    WASHINGTON ? A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

    The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

    The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks…

    August 2012

    Obama authorizes secret support for Syrian rebels

    Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence “finding,” broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

    1. Okay, so we know when the operation was scouted and authorized. When did they actually start delivering weapons to the rebels?

      1. my point was that Ed seems to be reprinting inaccurate claims made by Reuters about when all this stuff began. There’s plenty of previous/contemporary reporting which suggests CIA involvement started (at least) a year earlier.

        your question presumes there was some arbitrary hard ‘start-stop’ point to weapons flow… as though the US CIA was somehow unilaterally controlling a vertically-integrated system. That’s not how it worked.

        A whole array of nations was involved in the process (e.g. with Saudis providing financing, other nations – like Libyan rebels – selling their hardware, Turks helping guarantee logistics, transport, etc.) , and the weapons flow was likely well underway via others before the US stuck its nose in and started trying to dictate “who got what” and where it came from and how it was trafficked in.

        The date of official WH approval may have been little more than providing paper cover to what was an ongoing process which probably went back as far as the “assad must go” speech. But if anyone is going to choose an arbitrary start point, i think summer 2012 is as good enough as any.

  8. So you’re telling me all I have to do to get the Federal Government’s permission to buy all the assault rifles, rocket launchers, ammo, and grenades I want is to just move to Syria?

    Like, no waiting period or background check or anything?

    Do I still need an FFL?

    1. Just don’t eat any human hearts on video until after they send you the rifles and you’ll be fine

      Oh who am I kidding, eat away

  9. The Iran deal is a lousy deal and allows Iran to become armed with the most dangerous of weapons, so it is as stupid as arming rebels who hand weapons over to other people who want to kill everyone. Just face every deal Obama made was bad

    1. The Iran deal does the opposite of what you said.

  10. You mean trying to fight on two of three sides in a totally fucked up civil war situation isn’t a good idea?

  11. Fuck Assad and fuck any rebels who hold totalitarian beliefs. That is all.

  12. The WaPo comments on this yesterday were pure, distilled shitlib hysteria. I love seeing “liberals” act like neocons just because Trump did something.

    They’re in full reactionary mode now, with no thought or reasoning entering their mind. What a time to be alive.

    All we need now is National #JumpOffASkyscraperToProtestTrump Day, and the country might start to become a bit more sane again.

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