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Groundhog Day For America

Congress has now overwhelmingly voted to train and arm the Free Syrian Army, the “vetted moderates” who won’t use our money, guns, and expertise to fight against the Assad government, only against ISIS, the really bad guys.

Really, they believe this. From the NYT:

The Senate gave overwhelming approval on Thursday to a measure on the training and arming of Syrian rebels, then fled the Capitol for the fall campaign, sidestepping the debate over the extent of American military action until the lame-duck session of Congress later this year.

The training measure, pushed hard by President Obama, was tucked into a larger Senate bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30, a maneuver that leaders of both parties favored to ensure as few defections as possible. The Senate’s 78-to-22 vote, a day after the House passed the measure, masked the serious doubts that many senators had.

The broader debate over Congress’s role in blessing or expanding a new military campaign in the Middle East was one that few on Capitol Hill wanted just six weeks before the midterm elections. With memories of the 2002 vote to authorize force in Iraq still haunting every vote Congress takes on matters of military force, members of both parties — especially those with their eyes on the White House — tried to find a position they would not regret.

“I’m not sending your son, your daughter over to the middle of that chaos,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, whose libertarian views have propelled him into contention for his party’s 2016 nomination. “The people who live there need to stand up and fight.”

He added, “I am not giving up, but it is their war, and they need to fight.”

Our brave, brave senators voted to appropriate money for the Free Syrian Army, but did not vote on authorizing the war we will be funding. Because it’s an election year. Via Roll Call, here are the no votes (peace be upon them):

The no votes included Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Mark Begich of Alaska, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The GOP opponents included Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jim Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont also voted no.

I like this from Democrat Joe Manchin:

“I have seen no evidence that the Syrian rebels we plan to train and arm will remain committed to American goals or interests. The vast majority of national-level Syrian rebel groups are Islamists, none of whom are interested in allying with the United States, and none of whom we should be associating with. Further, the opposition fighters that we will train care more about overthrowing [Bashar] Assad than they do about defeating ISIS. Assad is evil, but he is not a threat to America,” Manchin said. “If the ‘moderate opposition’ have to choose between defeating Assad and defeating ISIS, why do we believe they’ll choose our priority over theirs? How do we know that they won’t join forces with ISIS if it helps them overthrow Assad?”

Josh Rogin writes that of course the FSA will turn their weapons on Assad, whether the US likes it or not:

Oubai Shahbandar, senior advisor to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, told The Daily Beast that it’s unrealistic to ask the moderate rebels to use U.S. weapons against ISIS but not against Assad. In major battles like in Aleppo, ISIS and Assad are working together. So you can’t fight one without fighting the other, Shahbandar added. (It’s a point of view backed by many senior State Department and Pentagon officials, who agree with the FSA that Assad is the magnet for the terrorists and that Assad’s continued rule only perpetuates the ISIS problem.)

Patrick Poole reports that so many of our Washington-approved “vetted moderates” are anything but. Meanwhile, Ross Kaminsky has a Vetted Moderate edition of News From The Future. Excerpt:

Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2014 — In what was supposed to be a secret meeting between senior U.S. military officials and leaders of the Free Syrian Army in the town of Ceylanpinar in southern Turkey, a member of an FSA colonel’s security team turned his weapon on the American contingent, killing two, including a U.S. Army major involved in coordinating training of “moderate” rebel forces by the U.S. military. Three other Americans were injured, one critically, before the terrorist infiltrator was killed by shots fired by both FSA and American soldiers. President Obama, at a joint press conference while meeting with the premier of Bermuda, said he did not have enough information about the event to comment about it specifically but added, “We are counting on our friends in the moderate Syrian groups to uphold their part of our mutual agreement.” The president and premier then enjoyed a round of golf at the exclusive Mid Ocean Club where they were joined by club regular, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Deputy Undersecretary of State Aymin Tudiep (known for his controversial comments about “the Zionist entity”) will receive the caskets of the fallen in a brief untelevised ceremony at Joint Base Andrews on Thursday. Senator John McCain remarked, “This tragic but isolated event must not deter us from working with our good friends in the FSA.”

Mosul, Iraq, October 20, 2014 — Nearly a week after U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped FSA forces were attacked by the Syrian Air Force, the United States flew its first military mission over Syria in support of an advancing FSA column. The Pentagon said it did not know whether the FSA soldiers were moving against an Assad regime position or an ISIS position, nor whether the FSA’s assault was successful. As widely reported in recent weeks, no member of President Obama’s “40-country coalition” has a single soldier on the ground in Syria and therefore details of the battle remain spotty. To the east, following President Obama’s reversal on a position of “no boots on the ground,” the U.S. presence in Iraq has been reduced due to the Obama administration’s sending another 525 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to help with that region’s Ebola outbreak. Local Kurdish commanders have said that lack of American attention is hampering progress against ISIS in northern Iraq. In Sierra Leone, two American soldiers have died from the Ebola virus and three others are in intensive care, now being treated in an isolation facility at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Several wives of soldiers protested outside the White House gates, holding signs saying, “Our husbands fight terrorists, not viruses!” and “They’re soldiers, not nurses.”

Peter Beinart frets that ISIS is causing Americans to rush to the GOP side:

Suddenly, it feels like 2002. Democrats got creamed in midterm elections that year because the women voters they had relied on throughout the Clinton years deserted them. In 2000, women favored Democratic congressional candidates by nine points. In 2002, that advantage disappeared entirely. The biggest reason: 9/11. In polls that year, according to Gallup, women consistently expressed more fear of terrorism that men. And that fear pushed them toward the GOP, which they trusted far more to keep the nation safe. As then-Senator Joe Biden declared after his party’s midterm shellacking, “soccer moms are security moms now.”

Unfortunately for President Obama, the security moms are back. And as a result, the levee Democrats were counting on to protect against a GOP hurricane is starting to crumble.

I’m with Andrew Sullivan here:

The party that was primarily responsible for the years of grinding, bankrupting war, a descent into torture, and an evisceration of many core liberties is now regarded as superior to the man originally tasked with trying to recover from that experience. The political winds unleashed by a few disgusting videos and a blitzkrieg in the desert have swept all before them. And we now hear rhetoric from Democratic party leaders that sounds close to indistinguishable from Bush or Cheney.

And so, we are going to war again in a region we do not understand, backing a side we do not understand, and the American people largely support it.

I am going to mix myself a stiff drink, and think about other Americans’ uniformed children and parents and spouses and siblings who are going to end up dying over there in that blood-soaked sand pit for no good reason.

UPDATE: Reader Brad writes:

I hope that I am wrong, but…

1) The U.S. will bomb ISIS sites inside Syria.

2) Washington will continue to warn the Assad regime not to interfere while coalition jets fly over Syrian territory.

3) Either ISIS or a so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition group will use one of the many MANPADS now in their hands to down a U.S./Western military plane. (Both ISIS and Syrian rebels have every incentive do this! See #4)

4) Downed jet incident will be pinned on the Syrian regime, and U.S. will respond (as promised) by simply expanding the scope of its campaign to bombing Syrian government facilities.

5) U.S. will attack by air both ISIS and Syrian government sites while claiming to wage “war on terror” on two fronts

6) U.S. equipped/trained Syrian opposition rebels will attempt to move in to bombed out government facilities

More chaos…repeat again…

UPDATE.2: Charles H. Featherstone:

As I never tire of saying, we are not good enough, we are not wise enough, and we are not rich enough to intervene like this in the lives of others.

But we are really good at exporting our fear, and making others pay for our insecurities. And we continually expect THAT will have no consequences either.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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