It seems that the Obama administration cannot go quietly into the night, but will go on being as truculent and as petulant as possible right up to its bitter end.
This is the only way to interpret its decision yesterday to lift restrictions on the supply of certain types of weapons – including it seems man portable anti aircraft systems (‘MANPADS’) to those whom it persists in calling ‘the moderate opposition’ in Syria.
The only remaining restriction on these supplies is supposedly that they will provided to ‘the moderate opposition’ if it in the US’s own security interests and provided they are fighting ‘terrorists’.
Indeed yesterday’s spin by the Obama administration was that the lifting of the restrictions on the arms supplies is somehow connected to the offensive against the ISIS capital of Raqqa.
The fact that the offensive against Raqqa has yet to get underway, and that ISIS does not have an air force which makes the purpose of supplying its supposed opponents with MANPADS moot, shows the emptiness of this claim.
Every well-informed observer of the Syrian war now agrees that the ‘moderate opposition’ does not exist, and this is also known to be the opinion of several of the leading figures of the incoming Trump administration, including President elect Donald Trump himself.
Moreover the Obama administration has itself previously opposed supplying the ‘moderate opposition’ with MANPADS precisely because it knows that it doesn’t actually exist and that this is in reality an all but certain way for some of these MANPADS to fall into the hands of groups the US recognises as terrorist such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, posing a potential threat to both military and civilian air traffic.
Moreover given that the US air force is currently operating in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, the decision to supply Jihadis in Syria with MANPADS actually potentially puts the lives of US pilots at risk.
As it happens it is difficult to know what precise effect this decision, made in the dying days of the present administration, will actually have.
No doubt there is already a stock of MANPADS set aside, which will be rushed to the Jihadi fighters in the weeks remaining before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
However it seems that Russian aircraft fly out of reach of them, and as President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said today, there are also technical means available to deal with them.
The Syrian and Iraqi air forces are of course much more vulnerable to MANPADS, but in the case of the Syrian air force the potential exists for the Russians to upgrade it to their own level.
Some MANPADS have in fact already been supplied to the Jihadi fighters in Syria during the conflict there, supposedly by the US’s Gulf allies and by Turkey. Some of these MANPADS seem however to have been ex-Soviet systems presumably originating in eastern Europe or Ukraine, which suggests that US intelligence agencies – probably the CIA – were the ones which actually supplied them.
The very latest US MANPADS are presumably more sophisticated than these systems. However it is very unlikely that they will make any decisive difference to the course of the fighting.
I would add that the widespread belief that the supply of Stinger MANPADS to the Jihadi fighters fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s turned the tide of that war is a myth.
The USSR had already made a political decision to pull its troops out from Afghanistan before the Stingers arrived – because the pro-Soviet Afghan government appeared to have stabilised making the continued presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan unnecessary – and despite suffering some initial casualties the Soviets were quickly able to develop effective countermeasures to the Stingers, which had the Soviet presence in Afghanistan lasted longer would undoubtedly have become still more effective.
For a well-informed and rational discussion of this issue see Afgantsy by the former British ambassador to Russia Sir Rodric Braithwaite.
What this latest episode most clearly shows is the seething anger and sense of humiliation as well as the petulance of the Obama administration as it faces the defeat of the Jihadis in Aleppo and the collapse of project for regime change in Syria.
Quite obviously this decision to send weapons to the ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria is not intended to help the fight against ISIS. Rather it is a reprisal for the defeat in Aleppo, and is intended to prolong the war in Syria. Characteristically it is being done at the very tail end of the Obama administration’s existence, ensuring that Obama and his aides suffer no negative consequences because of this decision.
In acting in this way the Obama administration is however acting contrary to what it had previously recognised were the US’s own interests.
To such irresponsible lengths has its petulance and its sense of humiliation taken it.