David Sanger warns us that the current US approach to Syria has resulted in the arming of militant extremists currently oppposing Assad but likely to oppose the US:
WASHINGTON — Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.
That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.
“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.
Bleak news for Times readers. But Mr. Sanger rallies his base with the reassurance that Mitt Romney would probably be similarly inept:
The assessment of the arms flows comes at a crucial time for Mr. Obama, in the closing weeks of the election campaign with two debates looming that will focus on his foreign policy record. But it also calls into question the Syria strategy laid out by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.
In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last Monday, Mr. Romney said he would ensure that rebel groups “who share our values” would “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” That suggests he would approve the transfer of weapons like antiaircraft and antitank systems that are much more potent than any the United States has been willing to put into rebel hands so far, precisely because American officials cannot be certain who will ultimately be using them.
But Mr. Romney stopped short of saying that he would have the United States provide those arms directly, and his aides said he would instead rely on Arab allies to do it. That would leave him, like Mr. Obama, with little direct control over the distribution of the arms.
In other words, since Romey has not been specific about what he would do differently, we can assume he would continue on the same poor course as Obama. Got it.
I am a little surprised that Mr. Sanger made no mention of another obvious dividing line - Syria is aligned with Hezbollah and Iran on the Shi'ite side, whereas Quatar and Saudi Arabia, as Sunni states, are surely guiding their arms to Sunni militants in Syria. Since Al Qaeda is the prime Sunni terrorist group, well, the slippage is predictable.
COMPOUNDING MY SURPRISE: The Sanger piece works as a front-page factcheck debunking a Biden debate claim. Well, except that Sanger never mentions Biden or the debate.