During his brief visit to Syria last weekend, John McCain posed for a group picture that reportedly includes two men who kidnapped 11 Shiite pilgrims in Lebanon. The two men, Mohamed Nour and Abu Ibrahim, are identified as kidnappers by The Daily Star of Lebanon.
A spokesman for Sen. McCain said that if anyone in the photo was among the kidnappers, that is “regrettable.” The spokesman added that “it would be ludicrous to suggest that the senator in any way condones the kidnapping of Lebanese Shia pilgrims or has any communication with those responsible.”
Certainly. The moral of this story, if true, isn’t that John McCain favors kidnapping pilgrims. The moral is that when one associates with rebels in countries like Syria, one can never be sure that one is associating with folks we should be associated with.
This underlying concern has formed the basis of my skepticism about the wisdom of helping Syrian rebels overthrow the Assad regime. To be more precise, that skepticism is founded on the belief that the dominant rebel forces consist of those with whom we should not be associated — forces that, indeed, wish us harm.
There are less objectionable (and less effective) rebel forces in the field. McCain apparently visited the least objectionable force. But even there, in an orchestrated visit, he apparently encountered some undesirables.
An Assad victory would be a knowable bad outcome. Thus, there’s a case for taking limited action to prevent the rebels from being overrun by Assad/Hezbollah. The case for intervention that would put the rebels over-the-top in their fight against the regime is much less strong.