This Jeffrey Goldberg anecdote doesn’t convey the message he thinks it does:
The rebels were quick to tell me that they only grew beards because the more radical Islamists among them had the best weapons, and would only supply these weapons to like-minded rebels. In other words, the beards were simply a marketing tool, not an expression of sincere radicalism [bold mine-DL]. If the more moderate among the rebels suddenly began receiving heavier weapons from the Americans, they would be empowered, and the Islamists marginalized.
If there are rebels willing to pretend to be radical Islamists in order to acquire the weapons they need, is it not also very likely that there are just as many or even more that will pretend not to be in order to do the same? It is a given that insurgents will claim to believe what their patron wants them to believe, but that is no guarantee that they will actually be the “moderate” insurgents that they are supposed to be. Considering how eager many American politicians are to believe in the “rehabilitation” of groups as fanatical as the MEK simply because they have the “right” enemy, we should consider the possibility that the U.S. could just as easily be duped into arming groups that conveniently say all the right things.
This is an inherent problem in intervening on the side of an opposition that we know includes jihadists and other groups that the U.S. isn’t normally interested in providing with weapons. On the one hand, the folly of providing weapons to groups that are professed enemies of the United States is obvious, but the urge to intervene is apparently so great that some compromise solution has to be found. This is how we get to the absurd point where we try to define and identify which armed groups the U.S. should wholeheartedly support and which we should seek to “marginalize,” as if we possessed the depth of knowledge or control to do either one. We don’t, and our policy should reflect that.