Once again I find myself in the unusual position of favorably citing the NY Times’ Ross Douthat. In his column yesterday Douthat nicely debunked the plan, proposed by President Obama and now approved by Congress, to arm the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels in the hopes that they will add heft to the fight against ISIS. The plan is to arm and train just 5,000 fighters. That is probably insufficient in any case: As Douthat points out, we have had less than sterling success in training Middle Eastern armies—cf. Iraq—and the ability and reliability (not to mention identity) of our putatively moderate friends in Syria is subject to doubt. But more critically, the US is now directly participating in Syria’s civil war, and won’t easily be able to walk away. Once having armed and trained a proxy army, you’re in. This could well be the most consequential–and tragic–mistake of the Obama presidency.
The backlash that ISIS has indidiously generated in the US led ineluctably to the heavy Congressional majorities supporting Obama’s plan. The vote in the Senate was particularly disappointing—only 10 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted no. I was happy to see that one of my senators—Kirsten Gillibrand—was among the dissenters, as were progressive stalwarts Warren, Sanders, Leahy and Sherrod Brown.
The 78-22 Senate vote was strikingly reminiscent of George W. Bush’s Iraq war authorization in the fall of 2002 (77-23). My guess is that if Obama were a Republican, the Democratic votes against the authorization would have more than doubled, while Republican naysayers would have dwindled to near zero. In that case the partisan breakdown as well as the vote totals would have looked like that earlier fateful vote. Hmm.