So here is one morning’s sampling of developments in the Middle East:
1. The capital of Yemen has been overrun by a clan-based militia calling itself the Houthis, of Shiite inspiration.
2. Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group, also Shiite-based, is using military intelligence provided by the U.S. to the Lebanese government to repel advances into Lebanese territory by forces of ISIL.
3. Turkey miraculously extracted 49 hostages from ISIL-controlled areas of Iraq. No ransom, they say, and no beheadings. Makes you wonder.
4. China and Iran are conducting naval exercises in the Persian Gulf. Yes, China and Iran.
5. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper names an obscure Syrian group known as Khorosan, a terrorist group that he says might be just as likely to be planning attacks against the U.S. homeland as ISIL. So Khorosan is the new enemy?
And you want to pick out the good guys from the bad guys and start slinging ordnance?
So far, the best response of our government, driven by the exigencies of the 24-hour news cycle rather than good sense, is to pour in more weapons, promise more airstrikes – all the while insisting that we will never get ourselves involved in another ground war in the region.
What we have unfolding in the Middle East is a series of civil wars taking place along a general fault line we might call the Sunni/Shiite rift, and instead of playing whack-a-mole with the successors of bin Laden, we will be safer in the long run if we can manage to stay the hell out while doing our best to ensure that none of the parties obtain nuclear weapons. Can we stick to that proposition, or will we find ourselves screaming for the president to “do something” each time a new grisly video emerges.
Locally, we have another fault line as far as Middle East policy goes
Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse) voted last week against the McKeon Amendment, a request from the president of Maffei’s own party to arm and train and otherwise support an endangered species known as “moderate Syrian rebels.” (The amendment was approved).
Maffei released a statement that said:
“After discussions with military experts, participation in classified briefings, and an ongoing dialogue with Central New Yorkers, I cannot agree to the president’s current proposal to provide arms and training to Syrian rebels. While I believe we must take action to defeat ISIL and prevent any attack on the United States or our interests, this open-ended proposal lacks a clear strategy and an exit plan.
“We do not know who these Syrian rebels are, where their loyalties lie, and I am not convinced they can or would eliminate ISIL or that weapons and resources we provide would not end up in the wrong hands. We must take action to defeat ISIL and to provide protection and security for our military advisors and provide humanitarian relief to Iraqi civilians, but I do not see how the proposal would not lead at some point to more Americans being put in harm’s way. Even the president’s top military advisor has said that U.S. military ground forces could be an option in the fight against ISIL if this plan does not succeed. Our military and their families have already sacrificed too much to risk them once again being called upon to sacrifice for this proposal.”
Maffei’s Republican opponent, John Katko, supported the McKeon Amendment and went further, saying that the use of U.S. troops to fight ISIS should not be ruled out. Here is Katko’s statement:
“I support taking action to destroy ISIS. That said, I am very concerned about the president’s lack of leadership in this area and even more – on Dan Maffei’s failure to hold the president accountable for not having a clear plan with understandable objectives. Dan Maffei himself sits on the Armed Services Committee.
“Our primary objective must always be to ensure the safety of the people of the United States. Increasingly, threats from terrorists abroad pose great danger to Americans here at home.
“We must always do our best to avoid the use of military force and the casualties of war. Such action should always be the very last option we consider. But, for those who won’t negotiate with the United States, for those who issue threats and unleash barbaric attacks upon our citizens, we must consider the use of all military options – including the deployment of our troops – to protect Americans.
“This is not my opinion alone. It is the opinion of President Obama’s former secretary of defense, and of the military leadership he appointed to advise him on such matters.”