There was an interesting article in the New York Times yeserday morning about the brutality of the rebel fighters in Syria. The article notes some of Secretary of State John Kerry's statements that these "extremist" elements make up perhaps 15% of the people fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The posting comes with video of the summary execution of five Syrian soldiers who were captured by a rebel "leader" of 300 fighting men. After reciting a poem about revenge, he shoots one military member in the back of the head and his cohorts follow suit with the other four. It is somewhat surprising that the New York Times, generally a booster of the Obama administration and their policies, would even report on this episode. The video was smuggled out of Syria by a former rebel fighter whose name is withheld because he fears for his life now. He says he left the fight against the Syrian army because he grew disgusted with the tactics used by this particular leader. Kerry's response was that more of this will happen if we do not intervene. Here's a news flash for Kerry: This has been happening almost daily in Syria and these are the people you want to help!!
Unfortunately, these actions by rebel leaders may be the norm, not necessarily the exception. From a variety of intelligence sources and non-governmental organizations operating in Syria, the consensus is that in terms of actual numbers, Islamic extremists may not be in the majority, but in terms of fighting strength and power, they are at the top of the game. As such, although they may not have numerical strength, they certainly have operational power and with that, they control the alleged majority. Hence, Kerry's statements about moderates outnumbering extremists may be true when talking about raw numbers, but it is certainly not true when it comes to who is calling the shots among the rebels in Syria.
Kerry's statements also belie another untruth. He claimed that the Free Syrian Army, the people with whom jerks like John McCain are so enamored, supports a "democratic process" of "all inclusiveness" towards a settlement of the civil war in Syria. Again, one would be hard-pressed to justify that assessment. Is this anything like the "democratic" and "inclusiveness" of the Morsi regime in Egypt that the Obama administration (so tempted to say Obama "regime") endorsed with open arms? Does the administration's definition of democracy- considering their apparent disdain for the Constitution domestically- now include acceptance and imposition of sharia law in a new Syria? To illustrate this fact, video, again smuggled out of Syria, shows Muslim Brotherhood fighters, apparently from Egypt, fighting in Syria and forcing Kurds to sign a contract upholding sharia law under threats of "what will happen if you do not."
West of Damascus, in the largely Christian village of Maaloula, Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels shelled that town from hills they occupied. According to one source- a nun- they threatened the village's inhabitants with "slaughter" after the al-Assad regime was finally deposed. Their crime was that they were Christian. And just as recently as September 3rd, there is more smuggled video of McCain's FSA people firing upon a Greek hospital and Assad forces in the area of Aleppo yelling "Allah Akbar!"
People like John McCain are decrying the fact that since the last confirmed chemical weapons attack- the one that prompted Obama to provide guns to Syrian rebels- those promised guns and munitions have not arrived in Syria. McCain and his allies like Lindsey Graham are blaming Obama for dragging his feet. But, the foot dragging is somewhat justified since the CIA cannot find secure pipelines to get the guns to the so-called majority moderate rebels. This underscores the fact that the extremists have a stranglehold on those pipelines and this further underscores their relevance to the debate. In short, intervening in this civil war will tip the balance of power in favor of the rebels and, most importantly, Al Qaeda. While real Senators like Ted Cruz of Texas are denigrated, his assessment is the closest to the reality in Syria: "The United States is not Al Qaeda's Air Force."
There are obviously differences between Lebanon and Syria. The main difference is that Lebanon is a less complicated country than Syria in many respects, especially ethnically and religiously. For example, in Syria you have, among others, Sunni Muslims, the minority ruling Alawites, Kurds, Levantines (Arabic speaking Christians), Druze, Turkomans, Assyrians, and some Armenians. Part of this is attributable to the formation of that country after World War I when arbitrary boundaries were established in the wake of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. Yet for this mish-mosh of ethnicity and religion, the country stayed rather intact for years, although there were uprisings now and then.
As we have seen elsewhere, a strong leader- what we in the West call a "dictator-" kept these opposing groups at bay and under control. Although certainly no fan of Communism, the one advantage of it in Eastern Europe during the Cold War was the dictatorial regime keeping these different groups in check, sometimes through brutal repression. The example of Yugoslavia comes to mind. The same can be said of the Shah in Iran, Mubarak in Egypt, and the royal family in Saudi Arabia. This is the "leadership" that the Arab world knows.
Getting back to Lebanon, they underwent a bloody and costly 15-year civil war where things are not completely settled even now. Lebanon is a less complicated scenario than Syria. If one extrapolates out, can we really expect the Syrian civil war to be decided any sooner because we launch some cruise missiles and provide some arms to rebels, assuming they are "vetted?" Incidentally, that is a term that needs to be retired. Does this administration honestly believe that the rebels will allow a census of their members to determine who is an extremist and who is not? We can bypass that by going to the "leaders," but that is changing almost daily. However, the idea of "vetting" the opposition is pure Obama Utopia and they have a better chance of finding that elusive unicorn somewhere over the rainbow.
Instead, it appears that Obama and his Republican accomplices, led by John McCain, are headed down the same path the United States took in Afghanistan when rebels were fighting the Soviets. We all know how that worked out. And this has been the pattern of Obama's "foreign policy." With Turkey, he views President Recip Erdogan as a "friend" and someone "with whom we have built up the bonds of trust." That friendship and trust has delivered a Turkey looking increasingly to the East, not the West, and increasingly belligerent towards Israel. That friendship and trust payed off real dividends (sarcasm intended) when Erdogan was the first to embrace the reelection of Ahmadinejad in Iran in 2009, despite his brutal repression of demonstrators, and the first to embrace Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Egypt. That friendship and trust payed off dividends with the Turkish sponsored Gaza flotilla which even an anti-Semitic organization like the United Nations said that Israel was justified in their actions. And speaking of anti-Semitism, Erdogan and his political party has a history in this area. Yet, he is Obama's trusted friend.
The same trend can be seen in Egypt where this administration openly embraced and endorsed the regime of Morsi in that country after selling a trusted ally in the war on terrorism and maintaining the peace with Israel down the river. In the interest of "staying out" of Egyptian politics, he got the Muslim Brotherhood. In the interest of "getting in" in Syria, if history is any guide with Obama, he will get Al Qaeda or their sympathizers.
American intervention in Syria will also likely lead to an escalation of that civil war. In June of this year, Al Qaeda affiliated rebels in the disputed Bekaa Valley which borders Israel actually took over a border crossing that is supposed to be manned by UN peace keepers. Does Obama, Kerry, McCain and Hagel honestly believe these extremist rebels care if the person is wearing a cute blue helmet with "UN" emblazoned on it? A simple look at the map of Syria shows that rebel and Syrian forces are fighting dangerously close to the borders with Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. This very June, a town in Lebanon itself was shelled by Syrian troops.
Despite the brutality of chemical weapons, despite the brutality of beheadings and summary executions in the name of Allah, despite the shelling of Greek hospitals- all actions that "go against international norms"- the United States needs to stay completely out of the Syrian civil war. This thing will not be over for at least 15 years. There will be more carnage and more human suffering at the hands of both the rebels and the al-Assad regime. Instead, the better solution is to do what the United States does best- provide humanitarian aid to the refugees and leave it at that. Hell- we do not even get thanked for that; do we expect thanks for an actual military intervention? Instead, our efforts should be directed at making sure Syria's civil war stays in Syria. And if Obama is going to use the human rights violations justification, why the silence on human rights violations for the 12-month rule of Morsi in Egypt? Why the silence on the almost daily human rights violations in Nigeria or elsewhere in the world?
And one final thought regarding John Kerry's recent testimony and comments from the likes of Dick Durbin and other former dovish legislators. It takes pure balls to assert that because you were anti-war during Vietnam or, more recently, Iraq that alone gives you greater moral power to support military intervention in Syria. These people are making those claims to support a military strike- that their former anti-war stances make the case all that more credible. They may be asserting the higher moral ground, but it is nothing short of shrill hypocrisy. But then, that sums up what passes for a foreign policy under this president. Obama leaves office in January 2017 and that day cannot come soon enough.
If democracy means anything these days in America, it is incumbent upon everyone to call or write their legislators and let them know that military intervention in Syria is dangerous and pure folly.