Lesson from Iraq

U.S. taking different approach to dealing with Syria’s cold-blooded leader

Most critics of the war in Iraq that involved American troops for almost 10 years would agree that this country did too much of everything itself. Rather than being able to turn over a landscape free of enemy forces to the Iraqis to rebuild, fighting has continued. That requires Iraqi forces to step up. While Iraqis were outfitted and trained, and as the war progressed, they participated in joint operations to greater and greater degrees, it may have been too little too late.

And when it came to the infrastructure improvements such as power, water and sewer plants, which Iraq so badly needed after almost 30 years of Saddam Hussein’s control, some are reportedly either too large to be operated easily or were poorly located or were unfinished. Too little consulting was done with Iraqis in their planning.

Next door, in Syria, Americans understandably are taking a very different approach to aiding those opposing that country’s cold-blooded leader, Bashar al-Assad.

The Wall Street Journal reported last weekend that the Central Intelligence Agency is sharing intelligence information about Assad’s government forces with select rebel groups. That follows on the heels of reports of special American teams providing tactics and weapons training to the rebels, and of the CIA instructing the rebels in how to identify al-Qaida infiltrators. It is uncertain whether any of this training is going on within Syria; more likely, it is taking place along that country’s border with Turkey.

Small numbers of American troops have been staffing aircraft and missile-detection systems along on the Turkish side of the border; the Turks, not wanting to be victims of Syrian weaponry aimed at Syrian civilians fleeing the fighting, are appreciative of that.

The CIA does not talk about what it is doing, which is not surprising.

But it is clear the steps being taken by the U.S. to blunt and counter the extraordinary violence and destruction that Syria’s President Assad is causing his people and his country are measured. No weapons at least as yet are being provided to the rebels for fear of them falling into al-Qaida hands. And even Barack Obama’s strongest critics are not demanding that American troops to be involved on the ground.

The tactics that the U.S. is using to assist the rebels opposed to Assad may be just the kind of tactics that will be used elsewhere on the globe as the need arises. As long as Iraq is in everyone’s mind, Washington will rightly be wary of deploying American troops. Much better to apply electronic resources and small-unit training from a distance.