The photo of John McCain posing with terrorists and kidnappers in Syria encapsulates, perfectly, everything wrong with the position of McCain and others that the U.S. ought to insert itself into Syria's civil war.
To recap the past few days, talk of arming the Syrian rebels is heating up. In the Senate, the Committee on Foreign Affairs cast a 15-3 vote to authorize arming and training the rebels -- Senators Tom Udall, Chris Murphy, and Rand Paul being the three courageous dissenters. Then, the Russians announced the shipment of advanced air defense missiles to the government of Bashar al-Assad. The European Union reacted in kind, voting to allow the arming of the opposing rebels.
It was revealed this morning that McCain, during his personal mission to Syria to meet with rebels, appeared in photos with Mohammed Nour and Abu Ibrahim, two members of the Sunni "Northern Storm" brigade, which kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims, who were on their way back to Lebanon, from Iran. The group is still holding nine of the hostages.
This should give everyone pause when it comes to ramping up support for the rebels by arming them.
McCain's office says that the senator didn't know who they were, and doesn't support their terrorist acts. I don't doubt that. But it precisely is the point. If a U.S. senator can unwittingly pose for pictures with terrorists in Syria, how can we guarantee that the arms McCain supports sending there won't also end up in the same place McCain did -- with terrorists? The simple answer is that we can't.
What's worse, the Sunni side of the war, which McCain wants to support with arms, is not just affiliated with these kidnappers and terrorists, but also al Qaeda-affiliated groups, and Iraqi Sunni insurgents -- the very same Iraqi Sunnis who killed American troops, and the Iraqi Army. That would be the Iraqi Army that McCain thought we should spend billions of dollars and thousands of American lives to establish. In fact, Syrian rebels affiliated with al Qaeda are responsible for the killing of nine Iraqi troops. We have every reason to expect that they will continue to target the Iraqi Army when they can.
The fact of the matter is, the other side is no better. The government of Bashar al-Assad has material support and manpower lent by Hezbollah and the Iranian government, which also targeted American troops in Iraq, by sending their advanced weaponry over the border. There's one more group supporting Assad -- Iraqi Shia fighters. These would be many of the same Iraqi Shia who also targeted and killed American troops. Two of the most prominent Shia militias, Asaib al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbollah, have already acknowledged their role in the Syrian war, on the side of Assad. Along with the Mahdi Army (which also has fighters in Syria), these groups were responsible for countless American deaths in Iraq.
So, yes, in many senses, the Assad regime and its supporters are enemies of the United States. They are responsible for targeting and killing Americans. But, in this case, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend. The enemy of our enemy killed American and Iraqi troops, and still seeks to bring down the government in Iraq of Nouri al-Maliki. Giving them arms would greatly advance that cause.
America has no natural ally in this fight. In fact, no matter who America supports, it ends up a net loss for us, just like in the war in Iraq. For that reason, those who stood up against the war, either from the outset or later on, have a duty to stand up against the idea of sending arms or training to Syrian rebels. For just as unleashing the bubbling sectarian conflict in Iraq and inserting ourselves into it was wrong, so is jumping right in to the same sectarian conflict in Syria. At some point, we must learn that we will never, ever successfully maneuver this millennia-old fight, and the best move for our own security is to stay out.
No matter how hard some may say we'll try to make sure that our weapons only end up in the hands of good Syrians who only want freedom for themselves, all they need to do is look at the picture of Senator McCain this morning to know that is just not possible.