President Barack Obama reversed his decision not to support or arm Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. Now he wants them in the fight against the Islamic State.
But even some Democrats are skeptical of whether the United States can safely take a side in the Syrian civil war.
“We’re going to pick a side — or try to pick a side — and same as we did when we went into Iraq, same as we’ve done in Afghanistan, and that hasn’t worked well for us,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said.
The danger many see with a U.S. policy to train and arm the Syrian rebels is that those weapons may eventually end up in the hands of ISIS or other jihadist groups or even the Assad regime.
“So who are the partners which the United States and the West are going to use to go in on the ground to destroy the Islamic State? If it’s the Syrian rebels, as we’re seeing, it may well be we should understand many of those same Syrian rebels are themselves Sunni jihadis, are themselves Sunni Islamists,” Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer told CBN News.
“So we’re looking at a situation where we’re going to partner with one group of Sunni Islamists to destroy another just because the other is a little bit worse, and they certainly are dreadful. I’m not sure what good can come of that,” he said.
Spyer has travelled to Syria and studied the various Syrian rebel groups. He knows the question facing the United States and the West is can they support the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition.
“This is possibly the crucial matter,” Spyer continued. “There are moderates and secular, democratic even, maybe forces among the Syrian armed opposition, but they are small and not particularly powerful.”
“And this is the perhaps the crucial point. They are engaged in a modus operandi in which they cooperate with the Islamists and the jihadiis. They regard them as common fighters,” Spyer said.
Spyer said if you arm the so called moderates, there’s no firewall between them and the Islamists.
“I think it cannot be stated enough times and it cannot be stated clearly enough that you cannot subdivide the Syrian insurgency into moderates and Sunni Islamists,” he explained.
“They are mixed up and you cannot take the Sunni Islamists out of the game, which means if you want to make war against the Islamic State, making use of Syrian rebel fighters as your infantry, you will be pitting Sunni Islamists on your side against Sunni Islamists on the other side,” he said.
In the murky world of the Syrian civil war, Sen. Manchin may be right. Picking sides in the Middle East is a very risky game.
Originally published on CBN News