CIA in Syria: Train Moderate Rebels, but Not So Many That They Win

White House Goal Is to Ensure Protracted Stalemate

Pro-Assad factions have regularly accused the United States of setting their policy around keeping the Syrian Civil War going. It turns out that they were more or less right.

The latest Washington Post report quotes top US officials, who are talking up an escalation of CIA training for rebel factions, as designed around “the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor.”

Just to make that clear, the officials later say that the CIA’s aid to the rebels is designed to ensure that pro-US factions don’t lose the war outright, but that the aid has to remain small enough that they don’t actually win either.

That means the disastrous situation in Aleppo, where rebel factions and government forces each control a patchwork of territory with civilians stuck in the middle, is the US ideal.

It also explains why the US has had such a difficult time figuring out its program of military aid for the rebels, since compared to the relatively straightforward task of propping up a faction strong enough to win, they are trying to prop up a faction to a point of stalemate with everyone else, and a little mistake one way or another could result in the war getting settled military, something the president desperately wants to avoid.

The long-term US vision of a “political settlement” rests on the assumption that stalemated factions will eventually come to the table, and the US can use its position as a “mediator” to hammer out terms more favorable to them than any faction is liable to offer voluntarily, but also seems entirely open-ended, since a lot of the factions aren’t even willing to discuss negotiations yet, and seem set to carry on the war for years longer on the hope that they’re going to break the stalemate somehow.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.