John McCain spent Memorial Day in Syria. He snuck into the country to meet with rebel leaders alongside General Salam Idris.
Idris is the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, the governing body of the hodge podge of rebel units that have banded together to fight the Assad regime. It is unclear who exactly the various Syrian rebels are and where their loyalties lie but reports have indicated that a group of rebels that have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda have emerged as the movement’s most effective fighting force.
And that is the problem with John McCain’s visit to Syria. With the many conflicting loyalties of the rebel fighters, it is difficult to tell who America’s allies in the fight may be. News reports today have come out that among the rebels McCain met with was a man implicated in the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi’ite pilgrims a year ago. McCain’s camp promptly denied that the Senator knowingly met with an alleged kidnapper.
Now, I take McCain at his word that he did not knowingly meet with the alleged kidnappers. McCain is a good man and that isn’t the issue. The issue is that McCain has been a fierce advocate for arming Syrian rebels and has insisted that we can locate those rebels who are not linked with radical Islamists. His trop to Syria, however, underscores just how difficult it is going to be to decipher which rebels we should be arming.
What is happening in Syria is at the same time inspiring, tragic, and incredibly complex. Anytime the people of a nation rise up against a dictator in a fight for freedom, we Americans should resonate with that yearning to live in freedom. For our nation was born out of that very same yearning. The tragedy is that tens of thousands of Syrians have perished since the uprising began in 2011. The Washington Post put the latest tally at 68,434 deaths. Every day more Syrians die and recent evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on its own people is horrifying. But the situation on the ground appears to be a complex mix of freedom fighters and opportunistic Islamist radicals. Unless the United States can determine exactly who it is they would be arming, it would be wise to tread carefully. We armed Afghan rebels fighting against the Soviets in the 1980. One of those rebels was Osama bin Laden.
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