For more than two years, President Obama and his top aides argued that providing U.S. arms and equipment to the moderate Syrian rebels was an undesirable, high-risk approach with the potential to further destabilize an already chaotic region.
But as the administration launched its new counteroffensive against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria this week, the arm-and-train approach has emerged as one of the cornerstones of the president’s military plans for confronting the extremists groups in the region.
The sharp policy reversal is one measure of the brutal and rapid rise of the Islamic State and the limited options available to Obama in trying to confront the threat that the group has become.
The program to support the Free Syrian Army — which Saudi Arabia has now offered to host — is also one of the central tenets of the diplomatic outreach to Sunni Arab states, which will play a key role in checking the terrorist group’s progress on the ground.
The new approach is also one of the few administration proposals that enjoy bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers would be much less enthusiastic about any plan that called for U.S. combat troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq.