A couple of weeks ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was stressing his position for U.S. policy in Syria: the senator wants the U.S. to provide Syrian rebels with extensive support, including “heavy weapons.” ABC’s Martha Raddatz reminded the senator that some of these Syrian rebels are terrorist who’ve sworn their allegiance to al Qaeda.
McCain said it’s a “legitimate” question, but he wants to support them anyway. After all, he said, “there aren’t that many” terrorists among the Syrian rebels he wants to give “heavy weapons” to.
Just two weeks later, McCain quietly traveled to Syria, and his office distributed photos from his visit to news organizations. One image, in particular, has generated some unexpected attention.
Senator John McCain’s office is pushing back against reports that while visiting Syria this week he posed in a photo with rebels who kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shi’ite pilgrims.
The photo, released by McCain’s office, shows McCain with a group of rebels. Among them are two men identified in the Lebanese press as Mohamed Nour and Abu Ibrahim, two of the kidnappers of the group from Lebanon.
McCain’s office insists the senator was not aware that he’d met with Nour and Ibrahim – if they are, in fact, the men in the photograph – and they had not been identified as such during his trip. The spokesperson added that if McCain had unknowingly met with kidnappers, “that is regrettable.”
It is, indeed.
McCain’s office went on to tell BuzzFeed that 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. Senator McCain condemns such heinous actions in the strongest possible terms.”
And to be clear, I don’t think anyone has suggested McCain is somehow sympathetic towards kidnappers. Rather, the point is the senator is eager to provide extensive resources to Syrian rebels, but he may not fully appreciate who his new allies are.
McCain added some additional thoughts on the subject last night.
When [Anderson Cooper] asked McCain how weapons would be prevented from falling into the hands of extremists, the senator said extremist fighters compose a small fraction of Syria’s rebel forces: 7,000 pro-al Qaeda fighters from the al-Nusra front among some 100,000 insurgents.
“Every single day, more and more extremists flow in … but they still do not make up a sizable portion,” McCain told Cooper. “We can identify who these people are. We can help the right people.”
Maybe, maybe not. But whether McCain can say with certainty who the “right people” are is very much in doubt.