Looking for a Few Good Men in Syria

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


rebelsBack from his trip to Syria, Senator John McCain is insisting that the United States should implement a no-fly zone and provide heavy weaponry to the Syrian Sunni rebels.

“They just can’t fight tanks with AK-47s,” Senator McCain said. As to the prospect of arming terrorists with weapons that can easily be turned against the United States, he added, “I’m confident that they could get the weapons into the right hands.”

What the right hands are is a matter of debate. In Syria, McCain met with General Salim Idris. The weapons would be headed into Idris’s hands. But what makes Idris’s hands the right ones?

“They are not al Qaida. They are not extremists,” McCain said of the rebels, while insisting that Al Qaeda makes up only a small percentage of the total rebel forces.

But General Idris might disagree with that assessment. The Free Syrian Army, which Idris commands, at least on paper, has a long history of engaging in joint operations with the Al-Nusra Front. The Al-Nusra Front is better known as the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

In hopes of obtaining American military assistance, General Idris disavowed the Al-Nusra Front, but earlier he had denied that Al-Nusra was a terrorist group and rejected American efforts to blacklist it. For the moment, General Idris may be willing to put on a moderate song and dance for McCain’s visit, but it’s quite clear from his previous statements that he does not consider Al-Nusra a terrorist group. It should be assumed that he will go on collaborating with them.

Last October, the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra jointly seized a Scud missile base. What happens when they seize a WMD depot?

But even if the Al-Nusra Front didn’t exist, arming the Free Syrian Army would still be madness.

The Syrian National Council is already dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Syrian Army isn’t much better. Even the New York Times admitted last month that “[n]owhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.”

The Free Syrian Army is now dominated by Islamist brigades like the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tawheed Brigade and the “moderately” Islamist Farouk Brigades; one of whose commanders was recorded on video eating a Syrian soldier’s lungs.

General Idris serves as the Chief of Staff of the FSA’s Supreme Military Command. The SMC allegedly has very little control over the Islamist militias in and out of the FSA. And two-thirds of its thirty commanders are members of the Muslim Brotherhood or allied to the Brotherhood.

Idris’s two deputies, Abdelbasset Tawil of Idleb and Abdel-Qadersaleh, are about as wrong as you can imagine. Tawil has reported ties to Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist Jihadist group whose goal is to create an Islamic state in Syria. Ahrar al-Sham’s members occasionally overlap with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Nusra Front. Saleh heads the Tawheed Brigade, which is a member of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. The SILF is a blatantly Islamist organization and together with Ahrar al-Sham issued a joint statement last year establishing an Islamic state in Syria.

If General Idris’s position on Al-Nusra seems slippery, his deputies, who also have far more control over the actual forces on the ground, are even more closely tied to an Islamist vision for Syria. Arming the Free Syrian Army would not mean equipping some imaginary coalition of secular officers that no longer exists, if it ever did, but providing heavy weaponry to Islamist militias fighting for an Islamic state.

Considering that fighters and commanders routinely switch from one brigade to another depending on opportunities and tendencies, McCain’s idea that the “right people” can be found and armed without the weapons traveling around is illusionary.

The Free Syrian Army is a useful myth because it implies an organized system and a formal chain of command. While the titles are out there, the reality on the ground consists of loose affiliations of militias held together by fundraising and ideology. The stream of YouTube videos celebrating their kills is a major fundraising tool. The militias fight among themselves over control of vital assets such as bakeries and oil wells.

If the situation sounds familiar, it should. That was the way it was in Libya, and intervening there left Benghazi under the control of the same amorphous clusters of Islamist militias, some of whom pretended to be friendly, but none of whom could be trusted.  What was Benghazi then is now Aleppo. And just as in Libya, weapons from the conflict will float across borders to other terrorist groups.

McCain is warning of a regional conflict, but it’s already a regional conflict. Helping the Sunni militias beat the Shiites won’t change that. It will just advance the conflict to the next stage in Iraq and Lebanon. Overthrowing Gaddafi did not stabilize Libya, it destabilized Mali and Algeria, and overthrowing Assad will not stabilize Syria. There are no “right people” to arm because there are no good guys in an inter-religious holy war. And there is certainly no one we can trust.

There is as little sense in choosing Sunni Islamists over Shiite Islamists as the other way around. The only reason we have taken the Sunni side is because so many of our allies are Sunni. And yet the term “ally” is a misnomer.

Are the Saudis really our allies? Can the Islamist governments in Turkey or Egypt be trusted despite their ideological hostility to the United States?

The problem with arming the Sunni militias goes beyond putting weapons into the hands of Jihadists; who are already heavily armed. American weapons would largely be symbolic. They would indicate the final endorsement of a Syrian Islamic state. Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt made the political takeover of countries by Islamists into American policy. Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria would make the violent Islamist overthrow of countries into American policy.

And that would mean that in a decade, we have gone from declaring war on Islamic terrorism to arming Islamic terrorists.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.  

  • no1

    McCain is a moron. FSA can rot in hell.

  • Texas Patriot

    Wake up, Daniel. The war on terrorism is over. Unfortunately, we lost.

    • joeb

      It's not over for Islamic terrorists. 9/11 and everything since is just the warm-up. Get ready for "total confrontation" with the west (say al qaeda) from the middle of this decade.

      • Texas Patriot

        There's nothing for them to "confront". The flag of surrender has been flown. The gates of the city have been opened. Don't you get it? The war on terrorism is OVER. They won.

        • EarlyBird

          This sounds a bit overwrought, Patriot.

          There is a position somewhere between engaging in hot wars with every Islamist who holds a Koran and an AK-47, and surrender. I think what we're engaging in is "allowing" these psychotic Arabs to sort out their own nations and society for once. It's not going to be pretty, and we certainly need to keep an eye on them, but if we get out of their way they may discover that they, not we, are their own worst enemy.

  • Texas Patriot

    Wake up, Daniel. The war on terrorism is over. Unfortunately, we lost.

  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    Does needle in a haystack resonate? If so, this is where the "few good men" will be found. And it is not as if this couldn't have been avoided, but the Islamist-in-Chief had other plans, and he executed them via Libya, hence, Benghazigate emerged into the spotlight.

    Six of one, half a dozen of another is more than appropriate – http://adinakutnicki.com/2012/08/31/islamists-wha

    In any case, the result is an imminent explosion on my northern (Israeli) border!

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

    • EarlyBird

      "Imminent explosion on your northern Israeli border"? Well then, why are you propagandizing Americans on an American chat board to worry about it? Maybe you should be speaking to Israel. Good luck.

  • Matt

    I trust the Saudi's. One they are one of the main regional power, so increase of their influence is about maintain it against Iran as in Lebanon. Two during the Iraq war the had control of Sunni wishing to fight against the US. So Saudi and Gulf citizens did enter Iraq. But that was nothing compared to what would have happened if they opened the gates. Three their policy on Israel and the Palestinian peace process is clear and even approved by Meir Dagan.

    • joeb

      The Saudis are our number one enemy on the planet.

      • Cassandra

        I agree with you joeb. The Saudis are our enemies. Their oil money has put many politicians all over the world in their pockets.. American universities have been heavily infiltrated by their power and so on. .They are our enemies and cannot be trusted. They believe in the world calipha and the coming of the madi and the victory of Allah over the world. America is their price.

        • Texas Patriot

          The West has proven time and time again that any politician can be bought, and the Saudis know that better than anyone else.

    • alkidya

      I don't trust any Islamists. Saudi is Wahhabi and Salafist. We should not get involved in Islamic affairs. Let them fight it out but rescue the Christians caught in the crossfire, please!

  • mally

    We should never divide the land of Israel and give to the palestinians for any reason! God said he would cut in pieces any nation that divides his land that he gave to the Jews. Jerusalem is the "apple of his eye" those that touch her touches his eye.

  • tagalog

    I thought that the prevailing view among our national moderates was that the U.S.A. has no business sticking its nose into somebody else's civil war.

    How come the Syrian civil war is now suddenly so all-fired compelling as to U.S. action of some type? The Syrian rebels could be Jeffersonian democrats and it still wouldn't be any of our business unless the Syrian situation threatened the national security of the U.S.A.

  • Arlie

    McCain should have stayed there himself and volunteered since they as such "good" jihad terrorists. The Globalists funding these criminal wars against humanity are insane. The RINO progressives and democrats should be called the "wasteful party" because everything they do lays waste to everything Conservatives live by and practice and work towards. It is very irritating and a misnomer when I hear muslims that want sharia termed "conservative" . There is nothing conservative about sharia. If McCain had a brain (or a soul) he would be rallying all American might and arms for Israel, our only true friend.

  • gee59

    Senator McCain hasn't any experience in ground warfare – most of his military career was as a POW.

    I guess somebody forgot to tell the Mujahideen in Afghanistan that they couldn't fight tanks with AK-47s, because not did they – but they won

    • EarlyBird

      The mujahedeen and Afghanis in general were being mowed down by Soviet Hind-D helicopter gunships until they received American shoulder-launched Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Those weapons were a major turning point in that war.

      Nonetheless, the Soviets, like any invading force anywhere whose success ultimately depends on changing the culture and attitudes of the individuals they are occupying, were bound to lose.

      • tagalog

        Yeah but the Afghanistan-Soviet war involved an invasion by a foreign power. If we get into Syria, the USA will be the invaders. Right now, they're fighting a civil war among themselves.

        • EarlyBird

          You're preaching to the choir. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should get anywhere near Syria. What happens there is not in our direct, vital national interest. And indeed, we would be that foreign occupying force, once again, whose success is dependent upon changing the entire values system of the population we occupy. Ain't gonna happen anymore than it did in Iraq or Afghanistan.

          We shouldn't be sending weapons to anyone over there or otherwise attempting to control outcomes. We of course need to keep a very sharp eye on it for any bad products that will come out of it, but otherwise, stay away.

  • EarlyBird

    Sneaky Danny Greenfield uses this sub-heading to his article, "How America went from declaring war on Islamic terrorism to arming Islamic terrorists" so the casual reader will assume the US has armed Syria's rebels. There have been dark hints that the US has already done so, but that's all speculation at this point.

    And Danny lies further when he writes: "Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt made the political takeover of countries by Islamists into American policy." What slanderous nonsense!

    The US accepts that Morsi as the popularly elected leader of Egypt and has chosen, so far, not to negate its long-standing treaty commitments to Egypt, and thereby push an already precarious Egypt into the abyss of failed statehood. There is a world of difference between that and actively supporting Islamist governments.

    Further, the only action Greenfield would have found acceptable is for the US to have helped Mubarak violently crush the hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries in Tahrir Square. If Greenfield, the weasly, manipulative little Israeli fascist, had any guts he'd just come out and say it.

    • D-Boy

      Earlydoedoebird. Please go away! Obama bought and paid for egypt being a terrorist state. You haven't seen his handiwork yet? The bloodbath? it's coming and maybe even before your extinction. We armed syria, hamas and egypt they day we shipped weapons to overturn Kadafi. Obama supports and gives aid to terrorist who happen to be islamist. Now Obama is giving aid to terrorist in syria, that is a fact. Son as the dust settles we will all see Syria a terrorist state worse than Iran. But you don't believe it? what a doe-doe.

      • EarlyBird

        When you start wetting your pants about Bush having created Al Queda in Iraq by breaking open that country, then I'll take you seriously. But you're just a partison dope.

        And even Greenfield doesn't outright claim we HAVE sent weapons to Syria. Obama seems very disinclined to do so.

        Morsi barely holds onto power in Egypt and is an extremely weak leader. The Muslim Brotherhood is hated by much of the Egyptian population. The military still basically calls the shots and has no desire to get into any war with anyone.

        You know what all this means? That Egyptians are working on Egypt and don't have the Great Satan to blame for their condition. They have to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives, finally. Thank God.

  • Daniel Greenfield

    "Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt made the political takeover of countries by Islamists into American policy. Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria would make the violent Islamist overthrow of countries into American policy.

    And that would mean that in a decade, we have gone from declaring war on Islamic terrorism to arming Islamic terrorists".

    • EarlyBird

      Well, it WOULD mean that, if in fact the US had any intention of doing so. And? HAVE we sent arms to the Syrian Islamist terrorists? Do you have some special inside knowledge of this? Don't be coy.

      Other than McCain, who has become a bit of a laughing stock, who in the US government is actually promoting the arming of Syrian Islamist rebels? And have you seen the polls on Syrian intervention? Staying out of that hornets' nest is about the only bi-partisan opinion in America right now.

      Your entire article is designed to slime Obama for a misstep he hasn't even made and doesn't seem inclined to make. Let's hope he doesn't give in to the demands to "do something!" or make more stupid "red lines."

      Of course, your primary aim is to keep Americans on absolute knife edge about every Islamist with an AK-47 within shooting range of Israel, to keep American foreign policy as malleable for Israel as possible.

      • Daniel Greenfield

        This article is about McCain's proposal to do arm the Syrian rebels.

        You should probably read articles before you begin denouncing them as tools of the Vast Zionist Conspiracy

  • HiPlainsDrifter

    JuanMcLame…famous for open borders and opposition to energy security.
    Now for further arming AlQuaeda and the Moooslim Brothehood…
    Here’s a quarter, Senator, buy a clue…

    • JimDuncan

      Wow, yur so original and insightful!

      A quarter? Where did the other 23 cents come from? You must be a genius at fundraising.

    • William James Ward

      I am wondering what happened to Intense Debate format, I have
      no identity here, do you know what is going on?

      • HiPlainsDrifter

        I guess we’ll just have to git used to it…

  • William James Ward

    There are absolutely no good guys in this fight and helping anyone
    is to help and enemy that down the road will cause us grief.
    William

  • DannyJeffrey

    First off Daniel: Best of luck on the personal issues you mentioned in the Email. Stay strong.

    Secondly, I am glad that you are stressing the Syria issue. Far too few Americans are taking the time to understand the dangers we face there. So many are wasting so much precious time debating liberals.

    I am doing my best to alert as many of them as I can and this is my latest on the topic: http://www.freedomrings1776.com/2013/06/syriaa-march-into-hell.html#more