Time to Defund the Syrian Rebels

Those cuddly "moderate" Syrian rebels are at it again! No sooner had the President, John Kerry, John McCain and Lindsey Graham assured us the majority of those "freedom fighters" are really the equivalent of George Washington and the Continental Army, than the rebels commanders on the ground announced they were joining al-Qaeda. They are through with the "National Council" and are organizing their own "Islamist Alliance":

"The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group … Others include the Tawheed Brigade, the biggest Free Syrian Army unit in the northern city of Aleppo; Liwa al-Islam, the largest rebel group in the capital, Damascus; and Ahrar al-Sham, the most successful nationwide franchise of mostly Syrian Salafist fighters. Collectively, the new front, which does not yet have a formal name but has been dubbed by its members the ‘Islamist Alliance,’ claims to represent 75 percent of the rebels fighting to topple Assad."

In this context, the al-Qaeda affiliates aren’t even the worst. As Max Fisher puts it in the Washington Post:

"As a sign of how bad things have gotten, al-Nusra is actually somewhere near the ideological center of the rebel movement; the al-Qaeda group Islamic State (ISIS), whose fighters are streaming into Syria from Iraq are considerably more ideologically extreme."

Yes, you read that right: a group that has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda is composed of "moderates" who represent the "center" of the rebel movement, while those baddies over at ISIS are the Real Problem. Once you go down this rabbit hole, you wind up in a kind of Syrian Wonderland, where things get curiouser and curiouser.

There we learn this radicalization is the fault of those unreliable Americans, who have "betrayed" the rebels by not bombing and failing to arm them with the really big guns. According to Syrian National Council spokesman Louay al-Mokdad, "they told us they signed this because they lost all hope in the international community. They said: ‘We are really tired, Bashar al-Assad is killing us, all the West is betraying us, and they want to negotiate with the regime over our blood.’"

Yes, those poor babies are tired – after all, beheading infidels really takes it out of you! It’s hard on the arms. Burning churches, destroying entire villages, not to mention car-bombs – what could be more exhausting? I mean, have a heart!

Besides which, the Islamists are among the best fighters, according to Abu Hassan, who speaks for a gang of thugs calling itself the Tawheed Brigade:

"Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syrian military formation that fought the regime and played an active role in liberating many locations. So we don’t care about the stand of those who don’t care about our interests."

So does this mean our recently stepped-up effort to arm the rebels is a non-starter? Not so fast: President Obama recently signed a waiver exempting the Syrian rebels from a law prohibiting US aid to terrorist groups. So it’s okay! The coast is clear! It’s all "legal" – US tax dollars will continue to flow to Syria, where they’ll be used to arm a group that has the official al-Qaeda franchise and wants to create an Islamic state.

Oh, but we’re "vetting" the Syrian opposition, right? Well, yeah, if you call this "vetting." It’s really more like the honor system – and, call me cynical, but somehow I don’t think getting "handwritten receipts" from local commanders will work with these folks.

I had to laugh at our clueless government’s reaction to this latest development in the ongoing Syrian rebel saga:

"The development appeared to take the Obama administration by surprise. A senior State Department official, briefing reporters Tuesday night on a meeting at the United Nations between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Syrian Opposition Coalition Chairman Ahmad al-Jarba, was unaware of the rebel announcement that had been made several hours earlier."

Looks like the State Department was tied up with this and just didn’t notice they’d been outflanked by Ayman al-Zawahiri. However, by the next morning they were totally up to speed:

"In a statement Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that officials had ‘seen the reports’ and were ‘discussing with the moderate opposition what impact this will have going forward.’ … U.S. aid would continue, she said, ’taking into account that alliances and associations often change on the ground based on resources and needs of the moment.’"

Ah yes, the "needs of the moment" – that about sums up Washington’s reckless by-the-seat-of-our-pants foreign policy. But what else do you expect from a government that goes bankrupt every few months and threatens to shut down altogether? Surely not competence. A nation that boasts of its ability to deliver "precision" missile strikes has no idea where millions of dollars in "foreign aid" is going – except, perhaps, straight into the coffers of the same people who brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Is it really incompetence? I wonder. The last time we played the regime change game in the region, we sent portable surface-to-air missile units to the Afghan mujahideen, i.e. what later became al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But, hey, didn’t we declare war on those guys more recently? I seem to remember an authorization for the use of military force that specifically named al-Qaeda and allied groups as justification for a worldwide "war on terrorism" – a war that continues to this day. So how do we reconcile this with the Obama administration’s support for our sworn enemies?

This deranged policy isn’t unique to the Obamaites: it’s a continuation of the Sunni "turn" initiated by the Bush administration. Bogged down in Iraq, and facing rising opposition to the war on the home front, they had to come up with a solution – i.e. a "victory" – but quick. So the "surge" was born, coupled with "outreach" to Iraq’s Sunni tribesman (i.e. we bribed them). Having "won" the battle of Anbar province with the help of these worthies, we declared the operation a success.

Team Bush had by that time already decided to ditch Iraq and go after the Big Kahuna, i.e. Iran – and that meant forging a regional alliance of Sunni radicals, oil-rich Emirs, and the Saudi Kingdom. As Fisher reports, al-Qaeda represents the "centrist" element in this sinister mix.

That’s how we got here, i.e. to the point where the ghost of Osama bin Laden is cheering on Uncle Sam. He may be dead as a doornail, but he’s had the last laugh.

The Syrian rebels have spent the past year or so blaming America for their inability to win the civil war they started, and issuing all kinds of threats, including threats to attack the US.

Their suit-and-tie advocates are subtle about it, warning of the "consequences of inaction." What are these consequences? They’ve been threatening to go over to al-Qaeda for months. One rebel apologist opined that if the West failed to send arms, Syria would become "a jihadist magnet." The clear implication being that the rebels would take their jihad to other shores.

Israel is right next door, which is why their amen corner has joined up with the Saudi/Qatari-financed pro-rebel lobby, but what’s scary is that America would hardly be exempt. After all, the oft-stated goal of al-Qaeda – otherwise known as Syrian "centrists" – has always been to strike at the "far enemy," i.e. the United States, and, from the sound of things, they wouldn’t have much trouble persuading their newest Syrian recruits to join them in this effort. We "betrayed" them, and they’re pretty mad about it – but are they mad enough to ram a car bomb into an American shopping mall?

In short, what the rebels have been saying, usually implicitly and under their breath, has been: send us money and arms, or else run the risk of another 9/11. In deciding to arm the rebels and call for air strikes against the Syrian regime, the Obama administration is responding to what is in effect a blackmail note.

It all works out very neatly for both sides: the rebels get their guns, and the administration gets a fresh justification for the Surveillance State, because, you know, the Bad Guys really are out to get us. Yes, war is a racket, as Gen. Smedley Butler famously opined, but more than just money is involved.

In their statement, the Islamist Alliance not only rejected the Syrian Opposition Council and called for the imposition of Islamic law, they also demanded the rebels reject Western aid. Why not grant them their wish?

Millions of US taxpayer dollars are being spent to support and arm them – and does anybody in Congress know how much is going to our avowed enemies? With 75 percent of the rebel fighters on the ground pledging allegiance to this "Islamist Alliance," anything less than that would be astonishing. If even one dollar is going to these murderous goons it’s a moral obscenity.

Now is the time for some enterprising member of congress with a nose for news to pounce on this issue and introduce a bill to defund the rebels. The House of Representatives could do it as part of a budget deal – that is, if they don’t shut down the government first. Because something tells me that if the government does shut down, US aid to Obama’s contras will keep flowing – even if a few of our air traffic controllers are told to stay home.


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I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].