Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, has done President Obama’s dirty work for him by submitting an amendment to the bill that allows the government to continue functioning which would authorize and fund the training of Syrian rebels by the US military – a key part of Obama’s vague plan to go after the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS). And while the Republican leadership is keen to pass this, the GOP rank-and-file is skeptical and needs some convincing – a task the authors anticipated by putting what news accounts refer to as "limits" in the bill. In other words, it’s not exactly a blank check, like those CIA payments to the Iraqi National Congress were, but if you look at the details it’s pretty damned close.
Yes, there’s all kinds of "safeguards" of the sort that one imagines are good enough for government work: the administration must report back every 90 days and fill in Congress as to who has been recruited, what weapons they’re using, and how well they’re using those weapons, but as The Hill reports:
"The Pentagon would be required to list every individual recruited, and would have to provide information on each person’s background, including any possible links to terrorist organizations.
"But the bill would not prohibit people with links to terrorist groups from actually participating in the program, the aide said. Such a blanket prohibition could make it tougher to recruit people.
"The aide said this language is intended to provide congressional oversight without hindering the mission.
"’We’re not asking for something that makes this mission impossible,’ the aide said."
No this isn’t a joke – this is Congress.
It speaks volumes about the "rebel" movement in Syria that imposing a condition that none of the "vetted" fighters have links to terrorist groups would be "asking for something that makes this mission impossible."
This is precisely why arming and supporting the Syrian rebels has been a bad idea from the very beginning: as the President told Tom Friedman recently, the idea that there are "moderate" rebels is "a fantasy." But then again Republicans like McKeon are fantasists, pure and simple. What does it say about our President, however, who is pushing what he consciously knows to be a fantasy?
Naturally, there will be no vote in Congress authorizing Obama to do what he is presently doing – bombing ISIS positions and sending more troops to Iraq. By the way, the total is now well over 1,000. And contrary to presidential claims, they’re all "combat troops" – there aren’t any other kind in a combat zone like Iraq.
If politics is all about timing, then the sponsors of this bill are clueless – it’s coming up for a vote in Congress just as these alleged Syrian "moderates" have signed a non-aggression pact with ISIS. Furthermore, the "moderate" Generalissimo of the Free Syrian Army has said he won’t lift a finger to fight ISIS.
How can this be? After all, we’ve been told by the rebels’ Washington fan club that the "moderates" have been fighting ISIS tooth and nail all along. So what reason do they give for suddenly going soft on those who are supposed to be their deadly enemies?
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the text of the agreement says "the two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy to be the Nussayri [Alawite] regime." The Lebanon Daily Star reports Free Syrian Army units near the Lebanese border are actively cooperating with the Nusra Front and ISIS: this is more than a mere nonaggression pact. It’s a full-blown military alliance: and if you’re wondering how ISIS is getting all those American-made weapons and trained fighters, the Star reports:
"The clashes in Arsal last month were sparked after the arrest of Imad Jomaa, an Islamist based in Arsal who had been aligned with the FSA before pledging allegiance to ISIS in July. His 150-strong Fajr al-Islam brigade followed him.
"Jomaa and his men, however, are not alone. Young, battle-hardened men around Arsal are joining the militarily successful, deep-pocketed Islamist militias in increasing numbers."
The Syrian rebels have made a political calculation that, from their point of view, seems unassailable. They’ve determined that Bashar al-Assad and his secular Ba’athist regime is "the principal enemy," as the truce agreement puts it. Whatever ideological and organizational disagreements the "moderate" Islamist fanatics have with the immoderate Islamist zealots can be dealt with after they get rid of the "heretical" Alawites and wipe out the remnants of Syria’s ancient Christian community, said to be the oldest in the world.
That Congress and this President want to start arming the Syrian rebels in a big way at this particular moment – when the 1,500 independent Sunni militias are bleeding into ISIS – underscores the criminal incompetence of these people. The McKeon amendment is a Lend-Lease bill for terrorists: if it passes, we’ll wind up handing sophisticated military equipment to ISIS – which will then be used against our "non-combat" troops in Iraq. And then they’ll tell us we can’t withdraw because otherwise those soldiers will have died in vain.
As I said from the start, this ISIS hysteria is all about regime-change in Syria through the back door. If ever there was a time to call your congressman, and urge a no vote on the McKeon amendment, that time is now.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.