On Wednesday early evening, driving back from Washington, I heard a National Public Radio interview with Virginia State Senator (R-Loudoun) Richard Black. Senator Black had sent a letter last month to Syrian President Bashar Assad, congratulating him for his efforts to protect Christians and other religious minorities in his country, who were facing brutality--executions, rape, kidnapping--at the hands of Al Qaeda linked "rebels." His letter was posted on President Assad's twitter page and it immediately generated news coverage in the United States. Most of the coverage was, needless to say, critical. I was struck by the fact that the Senator, a retired Marine Colonel, was not in the least defensive. Asked why he wrote the letter, he explained that he is a combat veteran who visited the wounded at Bethesda every month and agonizes over the lives lost and damaged. He warned that if Assad is ousted, he believes a Jihadist regime will be installed in Syria and it is foolish for the U.S. to align with such a regime. He gave precise military details of the combat in the mountain region of Syria where a majority of the country's Christians either live or once lived. He lamented that others were not speaking out in the face of the atrocities and that it fell on a State Senator from Virginia to speak. He stated that he hoped that his letter and the controversy that it has stirred will lead to a healthy public debate in the United States. His concluding words were: "Americans have fought against Al Qaeda for 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I find it abhorrent that we train and equip those same men to fight against American interests in Syria."
I know that many Obama apologists will argue that the United States is not backing Al Qaeda, but is carefully picking the rebel forces that are being trained and armed against the Assad regime. But only yesterday, I read combat reports from Syria, indicating that the American and Saudi backed forces are conducting joint operations with the hardcore Al Qaeda group Nusra Front. Under the fog of war, it is impossible to draw clear lines of distinction between "Jihadists" and "freedom fighters." We learned that lesson the hard way when the offsprings of the 1980s "freedom fighters" we backed in Afghanistan against the Red Army crashed those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.
I hope that Senator Black's comments do indeed spark the kind of debate that is so urgently needed. He gave that NPR interview the same day that President Obama was delivering the commencement address to America's next generation of warriors at West Point. In that speech, he announced an accelerated U.S. training program for "select" Syrian rebels who will be backed to overthrow the Assad regime.