Obama’s Syria Strategy Appears To Be: Don’t Commit to a Strategy

President Obama has not been shy about drawing a line in the sand on U.S. involvement in Syria: We would do everything we can to combat ISIS, but we will not put boots on the ground.

“What we’re not talking about is an open-ended intervention. This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope, designed to deter the Syrian Government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so,” Obama in his weekly radio address in September 2013. d

Even as events on the ground grew more complicated, from Assad crossing the “red line” by using chemical weapons on moderate rebels to an increasing threat from ISIS, Obama remained resolute.

“As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East,” Obama said in remarks at the White House in February of 2015. “That’s not in our national security interest, and it’s not necessary for us to defeat ISIL.”

But that all changed last week when President Obama authorized an expanded its war effort in Syria by deploying American Special Operations forces to northern Syria to help local forces fight the Islamic State. The White House has gone to great links to argue that this is not akin to “putting boots on the ground,” instead saying that they are being sent solely to “train, advise and assist” in the mission. Of course, it was tough to take him seriously given that Defense Secretary Ash Carter testified earlier in the week that the Pentagon would be stepping up attacks against ISIS using “direction action on the ground.”

As David French writes for National Review, “presidential promises notwithstanding, if national security requires boots on the ground in Syria, then put boots on the ground.” But at some point, preferably several weeks ago, the White House would at least describe what its goals are, or what scenario led them to the abrupt change in policy direction.

After all, the only thing this White House has revealed about its strategy is its lack of one. In 2014, Obama acknowledged, “We don’t have a strategy yet. We need to make sure we’ve got clear plans. As our strategy develops we will consult with Congress.”

Ten months later, the Obama Administration was still grasping at straws. “We don’t yet have a complete strategy,” the president told reporters during the G-7 summit of leading nations.