James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, was interviewed by Council on Foreign Relations last week on Global Intelligence Challenges. During a Q&A session, Clapper suggested that when it comes to training and equipping moderate rebels in Syria, the definition of ‘moderate’ has evolved so that nowadays it really means “anyone who is not affiliated with ISIL”.
If you watch the video instead of just reading the transcript, you’ll notice Clapper using air quotes several times when he says the word ‘moderate’. He even says at one point “whatever that means“, referring to the term ‘moderate’.
So there are some portion of our oppositions who are regarded as moderate. Moderate these days is increasingly becoming anyone who’s not affiliated with ISIL. And so, you know, we are attempting to engage with them, and that’s the whole point of the train and equip proposal—project that the Department of Defense is gearing up for, is to vet, recruit and train and equip oppositions in sufficient size and capability to actually make a military difference.
And so one of our challenges is, again, the recruiting and vetting part. So we picked people that not only are moderate, whatever that is, but also we have to be sensitive to complying with the international rules of law, which in this environment is a pretty tough order.
So this is a very, very complex situation in Syria, compounded by the fact that we are actually not there, which is very different than the situation we have in Iraq, where we are there. And so from an intelligence perspective and for our ability to exert leverage and influence, it’s much, much easier in Iraq than it is in Syria. That’s a long-winded answer to your question but it’s a tough one.