Meeting behind enemy lines with chief of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army Gen. Salim Idris, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) renewed his calls for the White House to arm rebel against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. McCain’s call to arm rebel groups left him with a photo op with two militants responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Filipino U.N. aid workers. McCain insists that he’d arm the good guys yet doesn’t know enough to have photo ops with wanted terrorists. Showing the murky line between the good guys and bad guys, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have all refused to follow McCain’s prescription for solving the Syrian conflict, something bitterly opposed by Russia and China. More evidence emerges everyday that the Syrian civil war is a sectarian battle between Sunnis and Shiites.
McCain insists that all the rebels need is better weapons to fight al-Assad’s Alawite regime. Backed by Saudis, Palestinians and a host of Wahhabi terror groups like al-Qaeda, McCain joined the rebel powwow that plots to eject al-Assad from power. “I’m confident that they could get the weapons into the right hands and there’s no doubt that they need some kind of capability to reverse the battlefield situation, which right now is in favor of Assad,” said McCain, despite promises by the Russians to supply al-Assad advanced weapon systems. Instead of cautiously assessing the degree of sectarian strife, McCain leaps to the conclusion that toppling al-Assad would be good for the region. “I call on Muslims everywhere to help their brothers be victorious,” said octogenerian Yusuf al-Qaradawi from his pulpit in Qatar. “If I had the ability, I would go and fight with them,” said the 80-plus-year-old cleric.
Without seeing the big picture, McCain assumes that U.S. military help toppling al-Assad would somehow stabilize the region. Calling al-Assad’s Shiite Alawite sect “more infidel than Christians and Jews” and Hezbollah “the party of the devil,” the radical Sunni cleric all-Qardawi mapped out the war between Shiites and Sunnis. McCain sees the battle against al-Assad as a necessary step to democratize Syria, the same mistake of former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney to justify invading Iraq. What McCain and other conservatives overlook is the U.S. military can’t stop the sectarian strife that’s driving the Syrian conflict. With Russia, China and Iran backing al-Assad, it’s natural for the U.S. to join forces with the enemy-of-my-enemy. Reluctant to jump into another Mideast War, Obama sees endless complications in Syria.
Supplying arms to rebel forces directly goes against Russian attempts to help al-Assad preserve power. Joining Gen. Idris for a powwow near the Turkish-Syrian border doesn’t guarantee that he’s in charge of any coordinated attempt to topple al-Assad’s regime without turning over weapons, cash and power to a radical Islamic group more hostile to the U.S. When Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah joined the fight against Syrian rebels in Qusair only 10 kilometers from Lebanon, a pivotal battle between Sunnis and Shiites began. Sunni rebels now in control of Qusair face a daunting challenge of staving off al-Assad’s Shiite forces. Sunni rebels fired rockets into a Hezbollah controlled Baalbek region. Scores of Sunni rockets hit Hezbollah-controlled areas, igniting fires in the villages of Yanta, Brital and Saraeen, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency, signaling an all-out battle.
Stepping into Syria’s war between Sunnis and Shiites would be suicidal for the U.S., close to ending its 13-year-old military incursion in Afghanistan. Whatever sectarian warfare exists in Afghanistan between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai, it pales in comparison to old hatreds between Sunnis and Shiites. Arming certain Sunni groups in Syria could inadvertently destabilize the fragile balance between the Sunni Gulf State regimes and Shiite-based governments in Iran and Lebanon. Hezbollah’s Nasrallah has already pledged undying loyalty to al-Assad for his historic support of the radical Shiite militia. Hezbollah’s fight to save al-Assad proves, if nothing else, that the beef with Israel is small potatoes compared to the ongoing battle with Wahhabi insurgents seeking to topple Shiite-governments like the ones remaining in Tehran and Beirut.
Whatever fantasy the U.S. had of intervening in Syria, the ongoing civil war between Shiite and Sunnis prevents it from happening. Arming Syrian rebels would potentially supply arms to al-Qaeda, radical Palestine and other Wahhabi groups seeking to install Taliban-like states over the Middle East. Whether liked by the U.S. or Israel or not, the al-Assad regime at least—as the Russians and Chinese see it—provides a buffer against radical Sunni states populating the Mideast. “We will not be silent and will not idle,” said senior Hezbollah commander Nabil Kaouk, responding to cross border rocket attacks on Hezbollah positions. Hezbollah sees its survival as dependent on al-Assad’s support, whose relations with Palestinians as all but disappeared with exiled Palestinian leader Khalid Meshaal—once al-Assad’s friend—joining the Wahhabi fight to topple the al-Assad government
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.