The State Department has been working for some time with the more moderate leaders among the fractured and disputatious rebel alliance. It believes not only that it can do business with many of these leaders, but also that by doing business with them it will strengthen them. Several months ago, when I ducked across the Jordan-Syria border and met with some of the rebels, I took note of their long beards, a sign of religious intensity. The rebels were quick to tell me that they only grew beards because the more radical Islamists among them had the best weapons, and would only supply these weapons to like-minded rebels. In other words, the beards were simply a marketing tool, not an expression of sincere radicalism. If the more moderate among the rebels suddenly began receiving heavier weapons from the Americans, they would be empowered, and the Islamists marginalized.
You need some pretty sharp beard antennae for that (check out the Sunni musclebear above. You think the State Department knows what’s in his head?). And if they were extremists, why would they tell an American that? Either they are extremists or they function at the mercy of extremists. I’d steer clear. Then there’s the argument that inaction will somehow hurt our interests more. That, apparently, is what Kerry believes. Here’s Goldberg’s version of that argument:
The U.S. must play a leadership role in the Mideast or the vacuum left by its departure will be filled by radicals, of both the Shiite and Sunni varieties.
To which I would counter: isn’t that going to happen whatever we do? And how do we intend to prevent that? I think democracy in that region will empower the extremists for a while until the logic of their backwardness compels an adjustment. This will take time. I think our interests are far better served by not trying to mold things we cannot understand and cannot control. Again: you’d think that Goldberg had never heard of the Iraq war reading his column. It goes un mentioned, even as he makes very similar arguments to those he made then. It’s Etch-A-Sketch. Larison counters forcefully as well:
Considering how eager many American politicians are to believe in the “rehabilitation” of groups as fanatical as the MEK simply because they have the “right” enemy, we should consider the possibility that the U.S. could just as easily be duped into arming groups that conveniently say all the right things.
But then you see Jeffrey’s real objective, stated up-front:
Whether we like it or not, we are in a conflict with Iran, and our credibility is on the line.
Just as it was to prove Saddam’s WMDs. And if we do not like the conflict, we shouldn’t simply acquiesce. We should challenge it – because containment is a real option, and war would be a body-blow to the Iranian people. Israel has shown it can take care of itself in this sectarian clusterfuck. We should take care of ourselves too – by not taking the Jihadist bait.
(Photo: A Syrian rebel fighter belonging to the ‘Martyrs of Maaret al-Numan’ battalion holds a position on June 13, 2013 in the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan in front of the army base of Wadi Deif, down in the valley. By Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images.)