Earlier this week Hillary Clinton firmly pointed the finger of blame at President Obama for the ongoing disaster in Syria.
“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said.Since then a lot of people have talked about the political implications of her effort to distance herself from Obama.
However, few have bothered to actually question the accuracy of the statement - that we could have saved the moderate rebels while overthrowing the Assad dictatorship.
Hillary didn't always feel this way about Syria.
In February 2012, she told CBS News that the U.S. doesn’t really know who it would be arming if it went down that road in Syria.Secretary Hillary of early 2012 had very good questions that required good answers, answers that Presidential candidate Hillary of 2014 hasn't bothered to offer.
“What are we going to arm them with and against what? … Are we supporting Al Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?” she said, echoing the apparent concerns of the administration.
Downplaying the uprisings at the time in Syria, she said: “So if you're a military planner or if you're a secretary of State and you're trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, that we don't see.”
So who is right? SoS Hillary Clinton circa 2012, or presidential candidate Hillary Clinton circa 2014?
According to an essay by George Washington University's Marc Lynch, SoS Hillary Clinton, and President Obama, was closer to being correct.
The academic literature is not encouraging. In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve. Worse, as the University of Maryland's David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective. The University of Colorado's Aysegul Aydin and Binghamton University's Patrick Regan have suggested that external support for a rebel group could help when all the external powers backing a rebel group are on the same page and effectively cooperate in directing resources to a common end. Unfortunately, Syria was never that type of civil war. Going claim by claim, it gets even more impressive...The proof of the last claim, that we couldn't have even found "the good rebels" anyway is proven by Senator McCain's little trip to Syria. The guy standing behind him is a kidnapper.
Could the US have made the rebels strong enough to beat the Syrian government or ISIS? No again. Lynch cites research by the University of Chicago's Paul Staniland finding that giving "material support" to rebels is "unlikely to trigger deep organizational change. This means that foreign backing for undisciplined groups will not do much."
And no, the US probably couldn't have even found "the good rebels" anyway. Research from MIT Professor Fotini Christia, according to Lynch, finds that loose networks of rebel groups almost always collapse into each other. It's impossible to keep track of who's on whose side absent clear organizational structure. Indeed, Lynch points out, even America's current, very limited "support the rebels" policy has backed groups that have aligned with ISIS.
Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.So ISIS and other jihadists were going to be getting lots of weapons anyway.
“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.
What needs to be done is for people to call out presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on this claim and say that they don't believe her. They should demand that she explain what she did with Secretary Hillary Clinton, that seemed to have a better grasp on the situation.
"the idea that more U.S. support for the FSA [Free Syrian Army] would have prevented the emergence of the Islamic State isn’t even remotely plausible."
- Marc Lynch
Meanwhile in Syria, the situation of the non-ISIS rebels appears dire.
The fate of Syria's Western-backed opposition hangs on a knife edge in the northern part of the war-torn country -- and with radical Sunni militants and regime forces closing in on them from all sides, time may be running out.Given the situation, it appears more constructive to offer ideas of what to do going forward than to pointing fingers behind.