US Special Forces in Syria Are Obama's Latest Broken Foreign Policy Promise

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US Special Forces in Syria Are Obama's Latest Broken Foreign Policy Promise

Obama was elected on a promise to pull back US troops from the Middle East. Instead, the presidency has been marked by mission creep

President Obama has agreed to send special operations troops to Syria to fight Islamic State militants. (Photo: Tannen Maury/EPA)

he Obama administration announced on Friday it will send US special forces into Syria, breaking its repeated vow that Barack Obama would not send ground troops into the war-torn country. This is the latest in a series of U-turns and broken promises that further cements our Forever War and sets a disturbing precedent for whoever becomes the next US president in 2016.

These forces will supposedly be “advising and assisting” rebel armies in the northern Syria who are fighting Isis, including Kurdish forces, while not engaging in direct combat. (Separately on Friday, the prime minister of Turkey, a member of the anti-Isis coalition, threatened to attack the US-backed Kurdish troops, who are believed to be the most effective fighting force against Isis, yet also sworn enemies of the Turkish government.)

 

While the administration says they will only be “advising and assisting” we know that the US military has already carried out combat operations inside Syria. “Advise and assist” is the same thing the White House said that our troops would be doing in Iraq, but now the Pentagon is admitting: “We’re in combat” in Iraq as well (and have been for months).

The White House announcement says nothing about the contingent of CIA-backed rebels within Syria who, in addition to fighting Isis, also are also attacking the Assad regime. It’s unclear how the special forces on the ground will fit into that equation. The administration will likely say they don’t, but how can the public trust them at this point?

 

In 2012, Obama unequivocally said he would end the war in Afghanistan, and chided Mitt Romney the Republican nominee for not promising that. In 2013, Obama said: “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.” In 2014, Obama said: “We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq”. At this point, all of those promises have been completely broken.

Worse, the Obama administration has effectively removed the democratic process (and Congress) from any decision making on whether to go to war. We now have ground troops inside Syria without any sort of legal authorization from Congress. Obama explicitly campaigned in 2012 on ending the Afghanistan war, which he has now extended beyond his term. The Obama administration also went into Libya and removed Muammar Gaddafi, despite the House voting against it beforehand.

The White House, as of today, is still clinging to the preposterous notion that the 2001 Authorization of Military Force against al-Qaida – meant for the war in Afghanistan – gives them the authority to wage indefinite war against Isis (a group that did not exist in 2001) in Syria, whether through airstrikes or, now, forces on the ground.

No one denies Isis is barbaric and extremely depraved, or that Bashar al-Assad is a murderer, but it is supposed to be the American public’s decision as to whether we go to war. The administration has changed that calculus. It alone now decides when it goes to war: Congress and the public be damned.

Many have argued that the legacy of Obama will be as someone who wanted to end our major wars but was stuck by circumstance into prolonging them. The real legacy of Obama will come into focus when a President Trump or a President Cruz (or a President Clinton, the most hawkish of all the candidates) decides to start our next war, and feels absolutely no obligation whatsoever to consult anyone before unleashing our military on one country in the Middle East or another.

Trevor Timm

Trevor Timm

Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and legal analyst who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and has also contributed to The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Harvard Law and Policy Review, PBS MediaShift, and Politico. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorTimm

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