"First of all, I've vetted a number of them [Syrian Rebels], because I know them." -- Senator John McCain, on CNN, explaining who is going to vet the Syrian moderates, before we send them weapons
Well, we can all relax now. Senator John McCain, who was wrong about Iraq, wrong about the surge in Iraq, wrong about the surge in Afghanistan, wrong about Libya, and wrong about most everything else pertaining to US security, has "vetted" the Syrian rebels he now wants to send arms to. Of course, the last big vetting he did is now back home, watching Russia from her house.
Unfortunately, President Obama has also bought into the idea of sending arms, and tomorrow, Congress begins the process of approving (or denying) funds to arm Syrian "moderates."
And what of these Syrian moderates that we're going to arm, after having been vetted by Senator McCain? Can we trust them to use our arms to help us fight ISIS?
According to Senator McCain, yes.
According to news reports this weekend? Not exactly.
Reports from the region say that Syrian moderates linked to the Free Syrian Army struck a ceasefire with ISIS, around Damascus. The statement on the truce declared that they were better off fighting Assad, than each other. Reports from Lebanon are that ISIS and Syrian moderates joined forces in fighting Shia, there. And the family of Steven Sotloff, the American journalist so brutally beheaded, continues to maintain that Syrian moderates captured their son and sold him to ISIS.
Now, whether all of these reports are air-tight remains to be seen. But, just the very possibility that they could be real should cause us to hit the pause button on sending weaponry to these so-called "moderates," so we can do a little bit better intel on them.
Just chatting with them, as Senator McCain has done, isn't enough. Syrian rebels will obviously say whatever they need to say, to get American weaponry sent their way, so they can continue their battle the forces of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Want them to say they hate ISIS? They'll say they hate ISIS. Does that mean they really do hate ISIS? Or does it mean they just want weapons very, very badly? After all, just a year ago, they were fighting alongside elements that became ISIS.
Further, who actually represents the Syrian "moderates"? Who do you talk to? Coordinate with? Who actually ensures that none of the forces will take our weapons and give or sell them to ISIS? Attempts to unite Syrian opposition under one umbrella have proven to be a failure. There is no accountability -- no chain of command.
If one segment of the Syrian opposition is running low on funds, as they fight Assad, and can get some money from ISIS by selling some weaponry to them, guess what they're going to do? Or, if another faction of the "moderates" is losing ground to Assad, and ISIS is there to help reinforce them, is there any guarantee they don't fight side-by-side with ISIS and share our weaponry with them?
Maybe there's a small chance that never, ever happens. But, again, if there's a real chance of it happening -- and there is -- we ought to not send arms while these questions remain open.
Finally, who is to say that the Syrian "moderates" will prove to be any kind of effective force against ISIS? Thus far, all they've done is lose to ISIS. And it isn't because they aren't armed well enough. It's because they are a rag-tag, disorganized bunch of small gangs -- not a true fighting force. Maybe they'll rise to the occasion, and become formidable. But, maybe they'll continue to lose to ISIS, while ISIS raids them of the new weaponry we just sent over there. And, down the road, ISIS will re-enter Iraq, to continue to carnage there that they started, using shiny new weapons stamped, "Made in the USA."
Just last night, I got an email from my interpreter, in Iraq. He's Yazidi, and was trapped on Sinjar Mountain, when it was under siege by ISIS. Luckily, he escaped. But, he wrote that he's been telling his family and friends that the Americans he served with are coming back to save them. Then, he heard that part of the plan was to send arms to Syrian "moderates." To that, he wrote me:
"If you really care about me and my family and my people stop it. Don't let it happen. I serve truly with your guys. Don't send weapon to kill my daughter which carry your name. Syrian rebels are same ISIS."
Again, maybe nothing bad ever happens, and our weapons are only put to good use. But history isn't on the side of that possibility.
And so, if our weapons for Syrian "moderates" end up being used to try to topple the Iraqi government that our troops died trying to set up, and/or getting used to kill innocent Iraqis, like my interpreter, the stamp on the side of those weapons may say "Made in the USA," but they might as well say, "Vetted by Senator John McCain."