Trump attempted to extract the U.S. from the Syrian conflict, but his sporadic, often unfocused efforts were largely thwarted by the permanent bureaucracy in the Pentagon, State Department, and other agencies. Considering the likelihood that the Biden administration will rev up the Syrian conflict by targeting Assad, recapping how America got involved in this mess to begin with is worthwhile.
President Obama promised 16 times that he would never put U.S. “boots on the ground” in the four-sided Syrian civil war. He quietly abandoned that pledge and, starting in 2014, launched more than 5,000 airstrikes that dropped more than 15,000 bombs in Syria.
Lying and killing are often two sides of the same political coin. The U.S. government provided cash and a massive amount of military weaponry to terrorist groups seeking to topple the Assad regime. The fig leaf for the policy was that the U.S. government was merely arming “moderate” rebels—which apparently meant groups that opposed Assad but which refrained from making grisly videos of beheadings. U.S. policy in Syria became so bollixed that Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels openly battled CIA-backed rebels. The U.S. government spent billions aiding and training Syrian forces who either quickly collapsed on the battlefield or teamed up with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or al-Qaeda-linked forces.
Federal law prohibiting providing material support to terrorist groups was not permitted to impede Obama’s Syrian crusade. Evan McMullin, a 2016 presidential candidate, admitted on Twitter:
“My role in the CIA was to go out & convince Al Qaeda operatives to instead work with us.”
Most of the media outlets that shamelessly regurgitated the Bush administration’s false claims linking Iraq to Al Qaeda to justify a 2003 invasion ignored how the Obama administration began aiding and abetting terrorist groups. The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan lamented last year that those who warned that the U.S. government “providing money and weapons to such rebels would backfire… were smeared as genocide apologists, Assad stooges, Iran supporters.” A Turkish think tank analyzed the violent groups committing atrocities in Syria after the start of the Turkish invasion in 2019: “Out of the 28 factions, 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat [ISIS]. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA.”