President-elect Donald Trump made much of expecting to end the CIA program arming Syrian rebel groups after his election, noting that the US doesn’t really know who a lot of these groups are. The move breaks with years of US policy in Syria, which sought to keep the rebellion going, though also sought to keep them from actually winning the war.
Trump’s shift has a lot of detractors in the existing administration, as well as among Republican hawks, but recent precipitous losses by Syrian rebel groups, particularly the Nusra Front-dominated rebels in Aleppo, are likely to make this shift a lot more smooth.
As far back as 2014, President Obama was admitting that arming the “moderate” rebels in Syria to be a real difference maker was always “a fantasy,” but he continued to plan through to the end of his term. The “moderate” rebels have long since been supplanted by ISIS and al-Qaeda forces, and while the CIA has kept the arms flowing irrespective of who ends up with them, the program’s failure is readily apparent.
Even in Aleppo, where al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front was doing a lot of the heavy lifting, the rebels are losing decisively, potentially ending nearly five years of fighting over the city. With the rebellion heading for a probable outright defeat, Trump may have an easier time convincing opponents that the shift in policy is simply a recognition of the inevitable.
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