Republicans threw a little confab in Manchester, New Hampshire last night, where 14 of their 17 presidential candidates made pitches to Granite State voters. Rand Paul sounded good, Rick Perry redeemed himself nicely, and Marco Rubio seemed oddly unsuited for the campaign trail.
There were no particularly groundbreaking developments. At least on foreign policy, though, there was plenty of nostalgia for the failed ideas of the past. The Post and Courier reports the following about Jeb Bush:
Bush was less enthusiastic about putting American boots on the ground in Syria, but did support aiding the rebel Free Syrian Army with Special Forces troops. “The idea of boots on the ground, I don’t know if that’s necessary,” he said.
This was perhaps an acceptable position in 2013, back when a serious component of the rebels seemed to have genuine democratic ambitions. But today? Hakarat Hazzm, a brigade of “moderate” rebels that received American weapons and training in Qatar, is gone. The al Anfai and Liwa Hateen divisions of the Free Syrian Army have defected to the regime. The Ahrar al-Sham movement clamoring for our attention has ties to al Qaeda and is reported to have engaged in the mass killing of Alawites. Other factions of the Free Syrian Army have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. American weapons supplied to self-declared moderates have ended up in the hands of ISIS.
It’s bad enough that President Obama wants the United States to take a martial role in the Syrian Civil War by providing air cover for hand-picked Sunni fighters. Now Jeb Bush wants to get the Special Forces involved—though somehow this wouldn’t involve dreaded “boots on the ground.” I’ve written before that Bush has thus far said a lot on foreign policy without ever really saying much of anything. His comments last night are a continuation of that trend.
Arming the Syrian rebels has become a zombie idea, to be hauled out of the mausoleum and reanimated every time a politician wants to sound like he’s doing something about the Middle East. It’s past time a line was drawn in the graveyard mud—perhaps even a red one.
Debate moderators and TV hosts need to start pressing this point. The next time a candidate talks gauzily about democrats in Syria or deplores American inaction, there should be an interjection: “But sir, the moderate rebels you speak of either aren’t moderate or are outnumbered by extremists. The main contenders in Syria right now are the Assad regime, the al Qaeda-backed Nusra Front, and ISIS. How do you leverage that to ensure the best outcome? And please, be realistic this time.”
Any candidate who can’t answer that question should be crossed off the list by rational voters. The stakes are too high in Syria for cheap fantasies.