Funding 'Moderate' Syrian Opposition: the Wrong Choice
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a Syrian opposition group that broke away from al-Qaeda and has seized large areas of Iraq and northern Syria, has announced a new caliphate and formally declared the creation of an Islamic state in the territory under its control.
Last week, the Obama administration sought Congress's authorization to train and equip Syrian rebels to the sum of $500 million dollars. This would also mean that the United States would knowingly be sending funds to al Qaeda and its affiliates.
The administration claims that the funds will only go to vetted "moderate" opposition fighters who are fighting both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the radical extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
So, in other words, the administration that was caught completely by surprise with ISIS's rise, believes that they are capable of determining who is and who isn't a "moderate" Syrian rebel. Are they going to be required to undergo background checks, or at a minimum fill out a detailed questionnaire that they are not affiliated with al-Qaeda?
The only group the U.S. has backed so far was the Free Syrian Army (FSA), through training and the distribution of a limited amount of small arms and ammunition. However, while the FSA is not technically al-Qaeda, it consisted primarily of Islamists, including those with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Many FSA fighters have defected to groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, an organization that has links to al-Qaeda. Recently, al-Nusra in Syria has sworn loyalty to ISIS.
The Obama administration is under the mistaken impression that there are secular Syrian rebels. All of the rebel groups infuse Shariah law into the territories they control. As ISIS racks up military successes, they have also engaged in an extensive social media campaigns to recruit new jihadi's. ISIS has even engaged in cat memes as a way to recruit members. Countless recruits are joining the jihadist ranks of ISIS from around the world.
Many of the 'moderate' FSA fighters, which the U.S. has funded, have defected to al-Qaeda affiliates. With the active and growing social media recruitment by ISIS, there is no telling who will be fighting America tomorrow.
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., residents who seek to possess a firearm must register with the police, undergo a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) background check, provide photographs, and submit to fingerprinting.
Will Syrian rebels undergo the extensive and stringent background checks that D.C. residents undergo?
It is unlikely the administration will be able to determine who the moderates are in Syria, if there are any. Additionally, even if the administration were able to find 'moderate' forces, what type of standards will be set up to screen them? How can they be sure they won't defect to al-Qaeda and ISIS with their new American military gear?
It would be a tragic error to assume that funding and equipment for Syrian rebels will not fall into the hands of defectors seeking to join extremist groups.
Even with extensive background check, we are still unable to stop criminals from getting weapons here in America. By providing arms to Syrian rebels, weapons are guaranteed to go to Islamists who swear allegiance to al-Qaeda and ISISs, effectively making it easier to get an American-made weapon as a member of al-Qaeda, than as a U.S. citizen living in Washington, DC.
Alex VanNess is the Manager of Public Information for the Center for Security Policy. Prior to coming to the Center, Mr. VanNess worked as an Intern for Congressman Doug Lamborn and then later as a member of staff for Congressman Tom McClintock of California. Alex holds a degree in Political Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, and has pursued the study of Jewish Law and Philosophy at ShorYoshuv Rabbinical College in New York.