McCain visits Syrian rebels
Josh Rogin is reporting that Senator John McCain slipped across the Turkish-Syrian border and met with leaders of the Free Syrian Army on Monday -- a visit almost certainly not sanctioned by the Obama administration.
McCain is one of the administration's loudest critics on Syria and his visit marks him as the highest ranking American official who has visited the country since the civil war began more than 2 years ago.
McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration's Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.
Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration's Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.
"The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time," he said. "We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation."
Fighting across Syria has increased in recent weeks, with new regime offensives in several key areas, such as Damascus and the strategic border town of Qusayr. Thousands of soldiers serving Hezbollah--the Lebanon-based and Iran- and Syria-backed stateless army--have joined the fight in support of the regime, as the civil war there has threatened to ignite a region-wide conflagration and amid new reports of chemical weapons attacks by forces loyal to embattled president Bashar al-Assad this week that might cross President Obama's "red line" for the conflict.
McCain's visit came as the Obama administration is once again considering an increase of support to the Syrian opposition, while at the same time pushing the opposition council to negotiate with the regime at an international conference in Geneva in early June.
McCain is running toward a gasoline dump with a lit match. Obama's ill-considered "redline" on chemical weapons was bad enough but now that Hezb'allah has stupidly committed thousands of its fighters to the war, it won't take much to widen the conflict.
The tinder is very dry in Lebanon right now. What would the reaction of the shias be in Lebanon if the US bombed them in Syria? The Sunnis and Christians in Lebanon - most of whom support the rebels - might be the fall guys for Hezb'allah with the terrorists accusing them of being America's allies, and that would raise tensions to a boiling point.
It couldn't get much worse if civil war breaks out in Lebanon as a result of our blundering in Syria. The Obama administration - and McCain - should be using whatever influence they have to get the rebels to the conference table. They can't win without tanks, artillery, and aircraft and they are not going to get them from the west. Time they realized they are at an impasse in their drive to get President Assad out and do a deal that would eventually accomplish the same thing.
Republicans criticized Democrats during the Bush years when they practiced this kind of cowboy diplomacy. McCain will probably hear it from the Democrats for the same reason.