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John McCain’s Islamist Photo Op and the Problem with ‘Material Support’

Senator John McCain undermined the point of his trip to Syria—to prove that it really is possible to arm the right rebels and not the wrong ones—by posing with [1] what the Lebanese press has claimed are Islamist kidnappers. Even the reliably hawkish Andrew McCarthy is cracking jokes [2]. Allahpundit gets it right [3]:

… [McCain] actually says at 4:40 that the rebels “are trying to achieve the same thing that we have shed American blood and treasure for for well over 200 years.” It’s one thing to believe that 10 years ago, before a series of exceptionally hard lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Egypt; it’s another to believe it now. It’s so surreally untrue that it eclipses McCain’s one solid realpolitik-minded argument here, that aiding the Sunni rebellion is a way to weaken Iran and, especially, Hezbollah by bleeding them in a Vietnamish quagmire of their own. We’ve spent two years watching Egypt bend towards Islamism and now here’s Maverick attempting to sell the public again on the idea that Syria’s a liberal democracy in the eventual making if we just pick the right people to empower, knowing full well that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood probably constitutes one of the milder expressions of Islamic fundamentalism among the rebel hordes.

Of course, McCain’s office pushed back hard, saying [1] “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.”

But that isn’t really the point. The point is that he didn’t know what sort of people they were and turned out to be wrong.

More troublingly, apart from being inappropriate meddling by the legislative branch in a tense diplomatic situation, McCain’s photo-op could possibly constitute ‘material support’ for terrorists under the PATRIOT Act, as Doug Bandow points out [4]:

Having his photo taken with Islamic extremists could reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement, which, based on past cases, could be seen as providing “material support” for terrorism. Presumably that isn’t what Sen. McCain intended. But the law’s application is not based on intent.

To be fair to the rest of us, the Justice Department should investigate. The alternative would be for Senator McCain to launch a legislative effort to restrict the application of the law to what most people would reasonably consider to be aiding terrorists. …

A legislative rewrite obviously would be the best response. Still, as much as I oppose vague and ambiguous criminal enactments by the federal government, I would enjoy seeing Senator McCain in the dock. It would be cosmic justice for his support of the catastrophic invasion in Iraq and endless occupation of Afghanistan.


This vague, sweeping definition of ‘material support [5]‘, defined in the 2010 case Holder v. Humanitarian Law also made the likes of John Bolton, Howard Dean, Tom Ridge, Louis Freeh, and Clarence Page terrorist supporters under the government’s own definition, for giving paid speeches on behalf [6] of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq [7]. The Islamo-marxist cult was de-listed late last year after a coordinated lobbying campaign headed up by the agency [8] that represented Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad.

Count me with Bandow in thinking it would have been nice to see some law enforcement agency be consistent enough to arrest and jail any of the above supporters of terrorists, if just to prove a point about the overreach of executive power since 9/11. But why quibble over some abstract principle like equal justice under the law when there are terrorists to fight support?

Follow @j_arthur_bloom [9]

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#1 Comment By Flavius On June 3, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

McCain is a case example of one of the major problems in our politics. Once a person has attained the status of being well known because they are well known, that person is impossible to dislodge from the ministrations of major media. Only some sort of racial gaffe or sexual comment dubbed retrograde seems to be able to do the trick. So we are stuck with McCain’s leaky valves pouring bad judgment into the political currents.
The Republican Party should have been able to figure a way to bury McCain long before it gave him a shot, incredibly enough, at the Presidency. If it can’t unburden itself now of this cringe-making albatross, it deserves to suffer the consequences.

#2 Comment By icarusr On June 3, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

“The point is that he didn’t know what sort of people they were and turned out to be wrong.”

And that’s a surprise how? Two words: Sarah Palin. OK, three more: Joe the Plumber.

“McCain’s photo-op could possibly constitute ‘material support’ for terrorists under the PATRIOT Act,”

No, it can’t. He ain’t brown and he does not have a funny name.

” apart from being inappropriate meddling by the legislative branch in a tense diplomatic situation,”

And that’s a surprise how? Four words: “We’re all Georgians now.”

#3 Comment By Calvin Candie On June 3, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

McCain is a fool who I wouldn’t trust to manage an Arby’s let alone be in a postion of making real choices of life and death. If the law was fair, a big if, then they would investiage and fine and or charge him for his terrorism support. You take a campaign pic with a terrorist who eats the heart of a kidnap victim youre clearly an idiot or supporter of his actions.

#4 Comment By Hunsdon On June 3, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

John McCain–often wrong, but never uncertain!

John “We are all Georgians now” McCain.

Juan McAmnesty.

John “I’m a hero” McCain.

John “I’m a Senator, the law doesn’t apply to me” McCain.

And if the Sunni hard men take over in Syria, and Syrian Christians and Islamic moderates and the Alawites are sent to the wall, well, John “No one saw this coming” McCain.

#5 Comment By Escher On June 3, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

Message from McCain to the rest of the world: Do as we say, not as we do.
Do not try to bomb your enemies into submission, unlike what we did in Vietnam, Laos, Iraq and now Pakistan.
Do not provide arms and money to scary people with long beards, unlike what we did (and are still doing) in Afghanistan, what we did in Libya and what we are now doing in Syria.
Do not deny human rights to your citizens, unless you allow American military bases on your territory (Qatar) or sell us lots of cheap oil (you know who), in which case waterboard away.

#6 Comment By Ken T On June 4, 2013 @ 8:58 am

I really think that Arizona needs an intervention. I know it’s hard to face up to these things, but Grandpa really can’t be allowed to go out of the house by himself anymore. He’s dangerous to himself and to others. I know it’s hard to take the car keys away, but really it’s for his own good.

#7 Comment By tbraton On June 4, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

“And that’s a surprise how? Two words: Sarah Palin. OK, three more: Joe the Plumber.”

How about 11 words: “fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy.”

#8 Comment By missu On June 5, 2013 @ 12:48 am

John McCain should be charged as a terrorist trying to insight a war!

#9 Comment By Ken T On June 5, 2013 @ 9:14 am

tbraton: I think the “fifth from the bottom” line misses the even more important point. Considering his post-graduation record of failure as a Navy pilot, with no consequences, it seems reasonable to guess that the only reason he even made it to graduation is because his father was The Admiral, and any instructor who dared to give little Johnny anything less than a “gentleman’s C” would have faced an immediate, abrupt, and probably very unpleasant end to his own career. Take that factor out of the equation, and I see him washing out long before graduation.

#10 Comment By tbraton On June 5, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

Ken T, I was tempted to add, after “fifth from the bottom,” that he went on to lose five planes during his naval flying career, but I was trying to keep my message short. To underline your point, it is preposterous that someone who “graduated fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy,” would be rewarded with a plum position as pilot in the Navy, an honor usually reserved for those graduating near the top of their class. It is also debatable whether anyone else with such weak academic record would have been accepted at the Naval Academy in the first place.

#11 Comment By Paul deHolczer On June 20, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

As I wrote elsewhere on this site:

It is time to play the long game and not the short game — always applying military and subversive efforts to gain a short-term advantage at the expense of our long-term interests.

In Afghanistan, our bold and petty (yes, PETTY) attempt to give Russia its own Vietnam led directly to the Taliban and al-Qaida. We have always had more in common with the USSR and Russia than we ever had with Afghanistan. If the USSR/Russia had prevailed in Afghanistan, that country would be MORE secular, LESS fundamentalist, MORE prosperous, LESS opium-exporting (Russia was its main market) and al-Qaida might never have decided to make the US a target.

Follow McCain to another historical blunder by supporting the Military Industrial Complex to another bloody debacle illustrated with the corpses of Americans.

On the other hand, it was President Eisenhower who made Egypt less militant against the US. How? By NOT supporting UK/French/Israeli intervention in Egypt in 1956. That is why Egypt is not sworn to revenge and action against us. That is why the US could buy the peace between Israel and Egypt that lasts to this day.

America will win more hearts and less anger and retribution by extending economic and humanitarian aid and by letting the people of the Middle East sort out their own problems.

Too few Americans remember the bloody anarchy which followed the French Revolution. The Arab Spring was inevitable, could NOT and CANNOT be stopped by US military power, and MUST play itself out. Any efforts by the US to prop up undemocratic tyrants in the Middle East undermines US credibility, morality and democratic principles as well as our long-standing national tradition (interrupted at times by fools who have a will to power) of anti-colonialism.

Let’s play the long game. Let’s win the long game.

#12 Comment By EJ On July 6, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

The USA needs to get the hell out of other countries business. We have enough problems and not enough money to solve our own, why do we pump Billions of dollars into countries who will turn against us after they achieve their goals.

Lets, use ALL that money to feed our poor, build our infastructure back to where it was when we manufactured most of the goods bought in US in the US. Solve OUR problems first before we try to solve the worlds.