nalysts and U.S. officials now view the chances of Syrian rebels unseating President Bashar Assad increasingly slim.
On Friday, Roy Gutman, Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, claimed that there has been “almost no communication” between the U.S. and Syria-based moderate rebels “since the fall of Mosul” in June.
Gutman spoke at a discussion hosted by the Middle East Institute in Washington, alongside Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who helped train soldiers in the new Iraqi army during 2003-2004. Drawing on that experience, Eaton emphasized that of the preferred options “good, fast, and cheap,” only two are possible at a time, and that the administration seems to have settled on a solution with the Syrian opposition that is “going to be good, going to be cheap, and going to take a long time.”
However, it remains unclear whether a long-term negotiated political solution is viable given the current balance of among the various sides in the Syrian civil war.
Also present was Robert Ford, who most recently served as U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014. He called U.S. policy on the Syrian opposition a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” in which a government reluctant to support “divided and weak” rebels simply made then “more divided and weaker.”
As Bloomberg News’ Josh Rogin noted, Congress’ passage of the spending bill on Thursday night omitted a $300 million request to expand the CIA program to equip and train Syrian moderates.
And testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk said that “we do not see a situation in which the rebels are able to remove [Assad] from power,” indicating that the Obama administration may be giving up on its hopes of an effective Syrian rebel alliance to topple that country’s president.
Despite reassurances by Obama in 2011 that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” in light of his brutal treatment of civilians, ousting Assad no longer appears to be a priority for the United States, and administration officials increasingly seem to advocate a political solution to the Syrian civil war.
Just weeks ago, Newsweek uncovered that the CIA had no clear plan in its vetting of “moderate” Syrian rebels, and famously, The New York Times reported a run-in with a group of Free Syrian Army soldiers, who when asked about their intentions to fight al-Qaida-backed Jabhat al-Nusra, stared blankly and said, “Oh, that. We lied to the Americans about that.”
The US-backed rebels in Syria have continued to lose ground to both regime forces and to jihadist groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State, the latter of which continues to control a broad swath of territory in Iraq and Syria and defend its holdings on multiple fronts.
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