Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

White House concedes Assad will hang on

  • Print

Anyone who doubts the dangerous consequences of White House waffling on Syria should note some startling recent statements by U.S. officials.

Let's start at the top. After two years of insistence Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go, the White House started hedging last week. No doubt that was a reaction to the fact Assad, armed and aided by Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, has been scoring major victories against the Syrian rebels.

The new language, as stated by press secretary Jay Carney, claims Assad "in our view, will never rule all of Syria again." This apparently means the administration thinks Assad will continue controlling at least some or even much of the country.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was even more pointed. When asked whether Assad would be in power a year from now "if we don't change our game," Dempsey replied: "I think likely so."

These admissions reflect a critical failure of U.S. policy, which was supposedly intended to help more moderate rebels and organize them into a coherent fighting force. The goal was to isolate jihadi militias, while weakening Assad enough militarily to push him into serious peace talks.

But the administration refused, until last month, to give military aid to relatively moderate rebel groups, even those vetted by the CIA. Obama vetoed a plan put forward last summer by then-CIA chief David Petraeus and backed by Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta and Dempsey to arm such groups -- apparently fearing military aid might be diverted to jihadis.

Yet the most militant jihadis had no trouble getting arms and funds from wealthy Arab supporters. Even Arab Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar often armed Islamist militants. The upshot: Better-armed radicals flourished. Al-Qaida-linked groups flush with foreign volunteers and equally militant local groups such as the Nusra Front have taken control of many towns and villages. They are even killing moderate rebel commanders.

"The reality is that, left unchecked, they will become bigger," David Shedd, deputy director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, said last week. "Over the last two years, they've grown in size, they've grown in capability and ruthlessly have grown in effectiveness."

In other words, the U.S. policy of withholding heavy weapons from more moderate groups has led to the opposite of what was intended -- the strengthening of radical jihadis. Al-Qaida has a new base, is training a new generation of militants and is stirring up new sectarian warfare in neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon. Meantime, a flood of nearly two million desperate Syrian refugees is so destabilizing Lebanon and Jordan that Jordan's King Abdullah fears he could lose power. The humanitarian catastrophe continues to build.

What's especially surprising is the U.S. failure to give strong backing to a Syrian umbrella military organization it helped set up last December. Known as the Supreme Military Council, the group is headed by a moderate Syrian defector, Gen. Salim Idriss.

The idea was for Washington to ensure Saudi and Qatari military aid went through Idriss and the council, thus bolstering non-jihadi forces and molding disparate militias into a more effective fighting force. Instead, the delivery of even non-lethal aid was delayed for months. Then, last month, the White House finally decided to permit the CIA to deliver small arms and train a limited number of rebels -- a move likely to have little impact against a regime using missiles.

Even this limited aid has yet to be delivered. There is no sign the White House will approve heavy weapons -- such as the anti-aircraft missiles that the rebels urgently need.

A bitter Idriss asked, in an interview this week with a British newspaper: "What are our friends in the West waiting for? For Iran and Hezbollah to kill all the Syrian people?"

It's understandable the White House doesn't want to involve U.S. military forces directly in the Syrian war. But it's hard to understand a policy that has enabled a new al-Qaida base to take root in Syria and endangers Arab allies. The way things are going, Syria may wind up divided between Assad forces and radical Islamists.

"Soon there will be no Free Syrian Army to arm. The Islamic groups will take control of everything," Idriss complained.

Does the White House have a plan to prevent an Assad victory that benefits al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Iran?

Trudy Rubin is a member of the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

-- McClatchy Tribune Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2013 A15

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Best of Jets sound bites following Saturday's 2-1 loss to Ducks

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canada geese fly Wednesday afternoon at Oak Hammock Marsh- Front bird is banded for identification- Goose Challenge Day 3- - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think the Jets will win Game 4 on Wednesday?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google