Much was made last week about the infiltration of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) into Syria for a brief photo op with various anti-Assad “rebels”—who, it turns out, have allegedly been involved in kidnapping Lebanese Shi’a pilgrims. (Senator McCain claims that none of the individuals with whom he was photographed identified themselves by names of those accused of kidnapping Shi’a pilgrims; his spokesman says it would be “regrettable” if the Senator had been photographed with people accused of committing such acts.) Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, another GOP Senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, noted acidly, “They say there are some pro-Western people and we’re going to vet them. Well, apparently we’ve got a senator over there who got his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re going to do vetting those who are going to get the arms.”
In a blog post provocatively titled “Did John McCain Provide Material Support for Syrian Terrorists?”, see here, the Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow wrote that a recent Supreme Court ruling (Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, issued in 2010) “upheld the [U.S.] government’s broad reading” of the statute that criminalizes “material support” for terrorism. In this reading, “coordinated political advocacy”—that is, advocacy coordinated with groups engaged designated by Washington as terrorist organizations—counts as material support. Those engaged in such “coordinated political advocacy” can be federally prosecuted; if convicted, they might go to jail for ten years.
In his post, Doug points to a number of cases where U.S. government’s expansive definition of material support for terrorism—now largely ratified by the Supreme Court—has produced disturbing legal outcomes. He argues that “lawmakers who approved the law should be subject to the same legal risks. Consider Sen. John McCain, who has been campaigning for war in Syria, just as he previously promoted war most everywhere else around the globe.”
After examining press reports on Sen. McCain’s trip to Syria—and on the activities of some of the rebels McCain met there—Doug concludes that Sen. McCain “would seem to have provided ‘material support’ to terrorists.” After all,
“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…[A]s 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.”
After his drive-by photo op in “liberated” Syria, Sen. McCain apparently traveled to Yemen. We were struck by the Yemen Post’s report on his visit, see here; we also append the story below:
“According to several Yemeni-based local newspapers, US Senator John McCain, who briefly visited Yemen earlier this week to offer his support to the coalition government and discuss political and security developments is rumored to have directly urged President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi to facilitate the transfer of Jihadists to Syria.
As the Free Syrian Army is struggling to secure its advances against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose lists of supporters while thin remains mighty in military might, Washington and its allies in the region are said to be looking at ways to swell the ranks of the opposition by allowing foreign fighters to enroll against Assad regime.
In a move which analysts have already qualified as dangerous given the repercussions a similar policy led to in the 1980s, when Jihadists where send to fight off Russian troops in Afghanistan, security experts are worry al-Qaeda will use this opportunity to increase its recruitment pool while offering precious ground experience to its militants, which experience would be use later on against Yemen central government.
A source told several newspapers, ‘Senator McCain’s visit was to drum up support for Jihadist groups fighting Bashar al-Assad regime.’
While the government has so far refused to comment on the issues, quite understandably since its military is still locked in an on-going military struggle against Islamic operatives in its southern provinces, all the while preparing for the return of some Gitmo terror prisoners. Yemeni officials would have a difficult time reconciling the idea of Jihad in one place while fighting off the same rhetoric in its own backyard.”
If true, the Yemen Post report could be construed as another piece of evidence against the apparently terrorist-supporting Sen. McCain. For, according to this story, McCain lobbied the Yemeni government to send more jihadi fighters to Syria, in order to swell the ranks of groups engaged in terrorist activity—representatives of which the Arizona senator had met with immediately before traveling to Yemen.
What all of this suggests is the mounting desperation that advocates of using Syrian oppositionists—whether Syrian or not—to overthrow the Assad government must now be feeling. Their project has failed. But, rather than accept this failure, many, like Sen. McCain, want the United States to double down on their unsuccessful pseudo-strategy—to provide still more support the opposition forces, and even to become directly involved militarily (through no-fly zones, etc.).
Fifty-two years ago, the United States foolishly tried to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government by invading Cuba with a force of anti-Castro rebels. When that force, unsurprisingly, got into trouble almost immediately upon landing in Cuba, there were those who wanted President John F. Kennedy to order U.S. air support for the rebels. While Kennedy made a huge blunder by proceeding with the invasion in the first place, he was at sufficiently astute at least not to compound his mistake by taking the United States into an overt, aggressive war against Cuba (certainly a covert campaign of aggression was already underway).
Similarly, President Obama has made egregious blunders in his policy toward Syria since March 2011. Let’s hope he doesn’t compound them by listening to John McCain and others desperate to hold on to delusions of American empire in the Middle East.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett