McCain’s Photo Op raises Questions about Arming Syrian Rebels

Lauren Williams of The Daily Star (Beirut) reported that when Sen. John McCain made a visit to rebel-held northern Syria on Monday, one of his photo ops was with a man implicated in the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite religious pilgrims, 9 of whom are still being held.

The report provoked controversy because it undermined McCain’s confident assertion that the US could identify “vetted” moderates to whom it could confidently supply medium and heavy weaponry.

ABC reports on McCain’s visit to Syria:

The Daily Star wrote,

“The pilgrims were kidnapped by armed rebels in Azaz, in Syria’s Aleppo province, in May last year as they were making their way back to Lebanon from Iran.

Two of the kidnapped, Anwar Ibrahim and Hussein Ali Omar were released in August and September but intense negotiations are still underway for the remaining nine, believed to be in the custody of the “Northern Storm” brigade, headed by rebel commander Ammar Al-Dadikhi, aka Abu Ibrahim… According to families of the remaining captives and one of the released men, Anwar Ibrahim, one of the men standing alongside McCain in photographs released by the senator’s office, is Mohammad Nour, the chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm kidnappers. Nour appears in several shots where McCain is posing with different officials.

Ibrahim and other members of the kidnapped family said they recognized Nour, and another man affiliated with the group, also identified as “Abu Ibrahim,” immediately after seeing the photos, widely circulated by international media following McCain’s visit.

Ibrahim, who had seen Nour multiple times in person during his captivity, said he was a close affiliate of Dadikhi who had photographed him and his fellow captors during the media campaign surrounding his kidnap. Nour has also acted as the spokesman for the kidnappers.”

McCain’s office denied that the senator knowingly met with kidnappers. Syrian oppositionists tried to throw cold water on the Daily Star report as ‘Iranian propaganda,’ but the article wasn’t written by an Iranian and the denials lacked the detail that made the original report plausible.

Responsibility for taking the Lebanese pilgrims was originally claimed last summer by a group called “Syrian Revolutionaries – Aleppo Hinterland”. Its spokesman said that the kidnapping was in reprisal for Syrian Alawite death squads’ attack on the Sunni village of Houla. (The Lebanese pilgrims belong to the Twelver branch of Shiism, and are not Alawis. It would be like kidnapping Methodists to take revenge on Wiccans.)

The idea that once weapons are supplied to a rebel group, they will stay within that group, is daft and runs contrary to everything we have seen in Afghanistan, Iraq and other theaters flooded with weapons by the US and its allies. In Iraq, even government troops sold off their weaponry on the black market for a quick profit. Whereas militiamen armed only with semi-automatic firearms can be demobilized after the conflict, if they have medium or heavy weaponry, they become king-makers and dictate to the government or they mark out territory that they control, where the government is doomed to be weak and challenged, for decades. (Much of Afghanistan is still in the hands of warlord families trained and equipped by the CIA in the 1980s during the fight against the Soviet Union).

The rebels want anti-aircraft batteries, shoulder-held heat-seeking missiles, and tank-killing artillery and anti-tank mines. These are powerful weapons and will bestow a political veto on the groups that possess them.

The Baath regime in Damascus has committed crimes against humanity and deserves to be removed from power. But trying to accomplish that goal by putting powerful weaponry in the hands of a congeries of local militias, some of them radical, is attended by severe dangers for a future Syria and for Syria’s neighbors today.

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15 Responses

  1. The man is a reverse ace in everything he does. To acquire ‘ace’ in the USAF you need to shoot down 5 enemy aircraft. McCain has the distinction of having crashed five of the aircraft he flew, count ’em, one, two, three, four, five aircraft that could have been flown by a competent pilot.

    Perhaps it’s just as well he only managed to clock up twenty hours of actual … you know … combat.

    Think of how comprehensively, how catastrophically the US would have been defeated had McCain managed to get his hands on more aircraft.

    Perhaps his abject failure as a pilot and his failed political career rankle. Perhaps that’s why this failure-at-every-career-he’s-ever-tried has such an affinity with the al-Qaeda backed faction he visited recently. They’re a pack of vicious and blood thirsty losers too.


    • There’s always been a fine line in that area about who are the good and bad guys.

      Remember in the 1980s in Lebanon where we had the warring factions, including Amal, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the Phalange, and the various Palestinian liberation groups. Nabih Berri was either the most respected stateman in Lebanon or a terrorist depending on who you spoke to.

      The most infamous photo op that never occurred was when Gulbuddin Hekmyatar, the Afghan warlord, made speeches in America to Afghan exiles but turned down an invitation to the White House to visit President Reagan – although many Afghan leaders did so and submitted to a photo op with the Commmander-in-Chief in the Oval Office.

      Hekmyatar’s rebel group received covert training assistance and weapons via the U.S. and Israel during the 1980s.

      Hekmyatar later became Afghan prime minister in 1994, but by 2002, the Bush administration deemed him expendable and attempted to assassinate him in a drone strike. The drone missed and Hekmyatar later announced support for al-Qaeda and a bounty on U.S. servicemen.

    • No need to….re-litigate….McCain. The guy is cut from the same clothe as Dubya: Where it not for his Daddy he’d have nothing more than a mediocre sales manager. At least Dubya’s parents were smart enough to get him out of flying before he killed himself or someone else.

    • some accounts credit the son and grandson of admirals with nearly sinking an aircraft carrier:
      link to

      The worst GW Bush is accused of, IIRC, is snorting cocaine while on flight status.

  2. Pro consol McCain is a political opportunist and an APAC hack and his credibility matches those of his hosts. Did he talk to somebody in charge? Tell us about the failing of opposition leadership or are they just a reflection of opposition as a whole to ally with McCain and ally with al Qaeda and whoever promises sunny days and in the process they have alienated one and all, even their own base. Where is the foresight and integrity in that to build a nation upon? In fact from the few videos I have seen the young and the secular (beard and hygiene as indicator) are a danger to themselves with any weapon and it is the religious fanatics who are most active and effective.

  3. The Israeli Manchurian Candidate should worry about drug traffic coming across the border of Arizona and the massive foreclosure problem that plagues citizens of his state, instead of poking around Syria where he has no clue what to do about the conflict, other than pump more weapons into the region to increase the violence. Not a very gifted man.

  4. On the bright side, at least he didn’t get caught with any Al-Nusra flags or graffiti in the background.

  5. What does McCain know about war? He crashed five planes, then sat out the rest of the Vietnam War in a prison cell.

  6. As Mr. “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” has not yet managed to carry out his bombing campaign there, he thinks that for the time being Syria is a good substitute. It is sad that such war-loving people occupy such high positions in the United States.

    By the way, the propaganda line that is adopted by most media, including in the above clip, is that the EU has lifted the arms ban on Syria. The truth is quite the reverse. Britain and France had been pushing hard for the EU to pass a resolution permitting the arming of the rebels, but after eight hours of haggling they failed to do so, as the vast majority of the countries were opposed to it. The Dutch foreign minister said that EU had just been awarded the Nobel Prize for peace. Was it appropriate for it to pour fuel on the fire and arm the terrorists and intensify the conflict? As the deadline for the former agreement runs out in a few days time and as they could not agree on a new agreement, they had no option but to allow the former agreement to lapse, which in fact allows any country to do what it thinks best. So in practice, Britain and France have got the chance of arming the rebels directly and more openly rather than through proxies, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, that they have been doing in the past.

  7. The recent report of the battle death of a Flint, Michigan mother, Nicole Mansfield, and the prior FBI arrest of American ex-serviceman Eric Harroun begs the question of how many Americans are involved in the Syrian Civil War and what organizations may be facilitating this?

    Harroun’s father has publicly stated his son worked for the CIA and there is already one YouTube video that has questioned whether Ms. Mansfield may have had such ties.

    The fact that the U.S. Senate is apparently gung-ho about the arming of anti-government militants and one of its members has apparently met with extremist elements does remind one of the initiation of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

  8. And this guy wanted so badly to be president:

    “I somehow managed to forget this ’08 John McCain incident that explains everything about him”

    Arizona Sen. John McCain took a walk through a Baghdad market on April Fool’s Day, and may well have burned his presidential campaign down to the ground in the process. That little stroll has visited upon his head a deluge of humiliation and shame vast and astonishing enough to beggar imagination, and that was before the bodies started hitting the ground.

    Translated into mathematical terms, McCain’s walk was Pythagorean in scope, squared hypocrisy added to squared idiocy equaling squared disgrace. In political terms, McCain’s Baghdad walk was a full-blown, bull-moose, train-wreck disaster of truly galactic proportions: a veritable Hindenberg of campaign photo-op debacles. It was so mind-bendingly ugly and deranged and disgusting that the once-iconic “Dukakis in the Tank” blunder now seems quaint by comparison.

    The genesis of this catastrophe, in case you missed it, was a verbal gaffe by McCain during a widely broadcast interview last week. After enduring several minutes of sharp interrogation regarding his staunch support of Bush, the war and the “surge,” a neuron within his logic circuits apparently misfired. He claimed, with an entirely straight face, that the streets of Baghdad are today entirely safe for an American to walk down. This whopper made even the most shamelessly craven war apologists shake their heads in public, and forced McCain to undertake a desperate face-saving lunge to recover some shred of credibility.

    McCain traveled to Baghdad to prove his claim correct, and the pictures appeared shortly thereafter. In the first available frames, the senator was shown walking through a Baghdad marketplace wearing a Kevlar vest, a general on his right and a troop on his left, and a second troop three steps ahead brandishing his rifle. While this kind of protection detail seemed to undermine his claims of safety, the escort and the vest could easily be understood as normal and necessary precautions taken to protect a visiting dignitary. For a time, McCain appeared to have made his point.

    It didn’t last. On the heels of those narrow-scope photos came reports of what McCain’s entourage was actually comprised of. That “safe” Baghdad market had been flooded with more than one hundred battle-ready troops and armored Humvees. Three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache attack helicopters roared overhead, and sharpshooters were posted on the surrounding rooftops. Simply put, McCain’s “safe” street was one overly loud mouse-fart away from being paved with flaming lead during every step of that little walk.

    To compound the calamity, a report emerged two days later describing the abduction and slaughter of 21 Iraqis who worked in the marketplace McCain’s mini-Normandy force had stormed the previous Sunday, an obvious act of retribution for his visit by a violent Baghdad militia. Already belied by the revealed firepower he brought along, McCain’s “safe” walk in Iraq led directly to yet another horrific Baghdad bloodbath. There is bad, there is awful, and then there is this thing, this quantum singularity of ignominy that bends the very light now shining upon it.

    link to

    Oh brave new world that has such creatures in it…

  9. Dear Professor Cole

    Badrakhumar mentions the mcCain visit to Turkey as part of a choreography for some further US adventure in the Middle East.

    I found this quote of great interest

    Moscow remembers Charlie Wilson’s War
    By M K Bhadrakumar

    McCain’s mission synchronizes with the successful move by Britain (with Washington’s backing) to force the lifting of the European Union embargo on supplying arms to the Syrian rebels. Washington has since commended the EU decision.

    Missions such as Charlie Wilson’s and McCain’s are well-choreographed and signal the directions of future US policies, aside from cultivating domestic opinion in the US. The Vietnam syndrome needed to be got over before pressing the pedal on the Afghan jihad, whereas in the case of Syria, American public opinion is opposed to the US’ involvement in another war in the Middle East after Iraq.

    But that opinion is slowly changing. It is no mean achievement that almost two-thirds of American public opinion, according to the latest CNN poll, believe that the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has been using chemical weapons in the current fighting. (The rebels who met McCain repeated the allegation.)

    link to

    The embarrasment of the Turkish authorities recently capturing members of the rebel side with a container of Sarin, which has caused the Russian Foreign Minister to demand an explanation as reported by Interfax, tends to undermine the fantasy.

    Informed Commnent has provided valuable commentary on the need for the US press to investigate the bullshit produced to justify acts of questionable logic, legality and military good sense.

    As “Yellowcake from Niger” and “WMD deployment at 45 minutes notice” are back to do a World Tour it might be useful to subject the lastest clais to scrutiny and rational analysis.

    Was “drinking the KoolAid ” the phrase used last time to describe the press abdicating their responsibility?

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