President Obama told Barbara Walters on Tuesday's 20/20 that the U.S. is prepared to formally recognize the Syrian rebels, the New York Times reports, thereby turning up the heat on Syrian leader Assad to step down.
But, what the Times calls a "once-disparate band of opposition groups" also includes a faction which the president has designated an al Qaeda franchise, so the question is, by granting legitimacy to the entire band of Assad rebels, is the White House indirectly recognizing al Qaeda and, if so, what does that say about ongoing U.S. combat in Afghanistan, and elsewhere?
"Not everybody who is participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people that we are comfortable with," the president said. "There are some who I think have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda."
Even though he said this, as the Times reports, Obama continued to praise the inclusiveness, and diversity of opposition forces. Are the Syrian rebels satisfied with the American president's praise? Of course not. They want arms, not praise, but Obama is smart. He's not arming the Syrian opposition, thereby steering clear of an Iran-Contra debacle. But, the mere recognition of opposition forces that include factions allied with al Qaeda, in and of itself, poses some major questions. What next, dubbing Syrian rebels "freedom fighters?"
Does this sound familiar? Remember when Mr. Obama said he would sign the National Defense Authorization Act even though, as a constitutional lawyer, he wasn't comfortable with the part authorizing unlimited detention of United States citizens?
In both cases, his posturing with the Syrian opposition is not unlike his posturing with the NDAA's unlimited detention article. In both cases, he's essentially saying "I recognize that this stinks, but I'm prepared to look the other way." Oh, no, Mr. President. There are questions that need to be asked and answered.
More importantly, the president has opened the door wide to legitimate accusations of hypocrisy when it comes to which combatants get to be designated "enemy combatants." Is the president really saying that there is such a thing as "enemy combatant light"? We're now approaching an Alice in Wonderland of terror.
Let me be clear. The U.S. is not the first, nor the only, country to recognize the opposition to Assad in Syria. France, and Britain have also done so. The Obama administration's decision to join an international coalition in supporting the ouster of Assad is a wise one. It is even wiser for the president to avoid military engagement.
Having said that, the American people are still entitled to ask why we've been war for more than a decade now with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iraq, and unofficially in Yemen, yet on the battlefields of Syria, our government is prepared to look the other way and recognize factions which, by the president's own reckoning, are linked to al Qaeda.
That the U.S. has been working for some time behind the scenes to nurture opposition to Assad, according to the Times, while at the same time refusing to commit to air strikes, or a ground war, is an excellent strategy. We have no more business involving ourselves in the internal strife of an otherwise sovereign state. How is it, then, that we have any right to intervene in the internal affairs in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world that al Qaeda affiliates are said to call home?
Moreover, given the looming, ubiquitous deadline of expiring Bush tax cuts in a couple of weeks, and while both Republicans and Democrats alike are talking about entitlement reform, it may be a better idea to chip away at the national security infrastructure, which has grown exponentially over the past dozen years, and which is, without question, among the most expensive entitlement programs of all.
After all, if the president is now prepared to recognize Syrian opposition forces, even those that he thinks are connected with al Qaeda, it's time to end this farce called the "war on terror," ensure that not one more drop of blood be spilled, and bring the troops home now.