WASHINGTON, September 12, 2014 —The situation in the Middle East is complicated and difficult. But one thing is clear: the United State should not give support to some shadowy group of so-called Syrian “moderates.”
Certainly, the criminal Islamist group ISIS has a large presence within Syria. Indeed, it is probably the most powerful of at least three or four revolutionary terrorist groups that have been involved in a desultory terror war against the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Last year Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham were all agog at the prospect of “giving aid, including military aid,” to a small, ineffectual group of the rebels called the “Free Syrian Army” [FSA], which McCain loudly proclaimed to be “democratic.” Documented reports at that time (from last September) indicated, however, that the FSA was: (1) much weaker than McCain claimed, and (2) that it had also engaged in acts of terror and persecution against Syria’s large Christian minority–who are solidly supportive of the non-Islamist Assad government in Damascus who has been their protector.
Last year congressional and public disapproval of military aid to the Syrian rebels and Russia’s willingness to intercede to work out a peace plan stymied the push by McCain and various war hawks for military involvement.
But, now, once again, there is a push, not just to search out and defeat ISIS (which is a laudable goal), but also, to engage militarily on the side of the FSA within Syria. Much of the congressional Republican leadership and the Murdoch Neoconservative press who were urging limited American intervention in the past, just a few weeks ago were declaring unequivocally that NO American boots-on-the-ground would be required. Now, however, to gather from Fox News, Senator McCain, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Charles Krauthammer, Oliver North, and other Neocon war hawks are suggesting that what is needed are American “advisors” and “ground support troops,” committed to such a Syrian operation. Such eagerness to commit American lives and largesse goes well beyond the concept of “mission creep.”
The problem is that the FSA is even more insignificant now than in September 2013 (as those pushing for aid, including Senator McCain, admit). Such direct American military aid would, in the end, only favor ISIS and the Al-Queida-connected Al-Nusra Front, the two largest and most effective terrorist groups opposing the Assad government. The FSA has proven that its efforts to unseat Assad and oppose the ISIS are basically nugatory. Any push to build them up would involve not only substantial American financial support, but, more ominously, considerable boots-on-the-ground, and, certainly, escalating American casualties. And when that happens, what then?
Our course should basically be limited to two objectives:
First, we should begin in earnest the process of reaching a modus vivendi with the Assad government. Assad’s enemies, in large part, are our enemies: the Islamist extremists. While he is certainly an authoritarian, the triumph of the large opposition Islamist groups in Syria would be an even worse disaster for the Middle East. American arms sent to so-called “moderates” would inevitably end up in the hands of ISIS, just as what happened in Iraq when the Iraqi Army ran away from battle, leaving its American-supplied heavy armor on the field. Such materiel would be used against the one bulwark preventing the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Christians in Syria: Bashar al-Assad. Such an initiative with Assad might also allow us to begin a process of dealing on a rational level with Syria’s ally Russia, something we really need to do.
Second, it is the Assad government and other regional powers (e.g. Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, possibly Saudi Arabia, etc.), with direct regional contact with ISIS, who must assume the lead to take out ISIS. Under no circumstance should American aid be given to such a shadowy group as the FSA. There must be no boots on the ground, no embedded advisors or support staff, and certainly no congressionally-authorized financial support for the FSA. Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and maybe Jordan and Saudi Arabia, would be capable of dealing with ISIS if they were to engage; except for Syria, they already receive American aid, and that could be stepped up with an agreement with Assad.
Remember FDR’s famous quip about the dictator Trujillo in the Dominican Republic when someone complained that Trujillo was a dictator: “Well, he may be a sonofabitch, but he’s OUR sonofabitch!” Making an alliance with a non-democratic state may upset the liberal democratic Neoconservatives, but our national interest may dictate it on occasion. And I think this would be such an occasion with Bashar al-Assad.
A wrong decision now on Syria in this situation could well spell disaster in the future. Congress needs to reject support for the FSA, while recommending a careful rapprochement with Assad. This would be the most effective and least risky means of addressing a very difficult crisis.
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