“Trump ends covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels, a move sought by Moscow,” read the headline late Wednesday at the Washington Post. The Post reported, “President Trump has decided to end the CIA?s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.”
The impression readers are left with is that Russia wanted this to happen, regardless of whether or not Trump took this action with Putin in mind.
But nowhere in The Hill story does it note that McCain had long been one of the strongest advocates for arming the Syrian rebels, nor does it note that a sizable and bipartisan number of senators have opposed this policy. The Telegraph story doesn’t provide that context either. The entire lengthy Washington Post story is about the Russian ramifications of Trump’s decisions.
Many of the stories being published about this decision are hyper-focused on Russia and neglect pertinent facts about this issue. These facts are not trivial asides. They are crucial to understanding the full picture.
In 2014, 22 senators voted to block the arming of the Syrian rebels.
Here’s a full list via MSNBC:
- Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)
- Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
- Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
- Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.)
- Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
- Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
- Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
- Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
- Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)
- Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
- Sen. MIke Lee (R-Utah)
- Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
- Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho)
- Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Why did these senators want to block arms from reaching the allegedly moderate Syrian rebels? Were they all pro-Putin back in 2014?
No, most were concerned these weapons might end up in the hands of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other extremists that the U.S. purportedly still considers our enemies — which is exactly what happened time and time and time and time and time and time and time again for as long as America has been doing this.
For a number of years now, U.S. policy has been to “arm the allies of al-Qaeda,” as Sen. Rand Paul once put it.
This is not a secret. The U.S. military even acknowledges that U.S. supplied weapons have ended up in our enemies’ hands. As CNN reported in 2015, “Amnesty International’s 44-page report, released late Monday, found that much of ISIS’ equipment and munitions comes from stockpiles captured from the U.S.-allied Iraqi military and Syrian rebels.”
CNN also noted at the time, “The findings come as President Barack Obama has recommitted to leaning on regional forces, including the Iraqis, Kurds and Syrian opposition, to try to wipe out ISIS rather than committing significant numbers of U.S. ground troops.”
With his latest move, Trump probably thought Obama’s policy was troubling, so that’s likely why he changed it. Three years ago, twenty-two senators representing the hard left and right wings of both parties, alongside a number of moderates, also thought Obama’s policy was bad.
Halting the shipment of weapons to Syrian rebels was hardly a loner position — plenty of non-Russians wanted this, too.
The role Russia may or may not have played in Trump’s decision is absolutely relevant, but not at the expense of ignoring a national security debate that has been ongoing in our country for many years now.
The entire story is not about Russia.
I don’t know with certainty why Trump reversed this policy and decided to stop arming Syrian rebel groups. I do know that anyone who reads most of the stories covering the decision will only learn that Trump did something Putin likes. Readers will not be informed about the many high ranking officials in the United States who didn’t like the policy either.
The media’s job is to inform, not cast one-sided aspersions masked as straightforward information.
Yes, Russia might like this move. But President Trump also made an American foreign policy decision that many Democrats and Republicans thought was long overdue.
People need to know that, too.
Disclosure: I co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Sen. Rand Paul.