Drudge has been killing the White House all day by spotlighting that harrowing NYT story about the rebels that Ed blogged this morning, and now here’s Kerry’s response. If you’re worried about Al Qaeda and its jihadi partners like Jabhat al-Nusra running wild, then you should … support a U.S. attack on their enemy Assad. Wait, what? Sure, says Kerry: Only if the U.S. empowers “moderate” rebels like the Free Syrian Army — whose leadership, by the way, is falling apart — will there be an alternative for people who want Assad gone but don’t want fundamentalists to replace him. Never mind that Reuters reported months ago that jihadi groups were successfully sidelining the moderate elements within the rebel ranks and confiscating their weapons. And never mind that, as of just four months ago, the Times famously reported that there was really no such thing as a secular fighting force in rebel-controlled Syria. Evidently we’re going to find, or build, one and then somehow elevate it to prominence over battle-tested jihadi outfits like the Nusra Front.
But wait. How broad is this intervention going to be? The point of the attack, I thought, was to punch Assad hard in the face for gassing people in Damascus, enough so that he thinks twice about doing it again. What Kerry’s suggesting here goes beyond that, well into McCain territory. If the goal now is to secularize the Syrian opposition, then we’re not just talking about bloodying the regime’s nose. We’re talking necessarily about weakening the jihadi rebels too while the “moderates” gain strength. That means taking on both sides. Are we simultaneously going to bomb the army to try to force Assad to the bargaining table while also droning Nusraites until they sue for peace too? If not, if this is all going to be done theoretically by arming the “moderates” until they can hold their own with jihadis, what happens if the jihadis attack them and gain the upper hand? Do we intervene then to influence the rebel civil war within a civil war? And in that case, if the rebels start killing each other, whose job will it be to take the fight to Assad?
Hayes makes a good point towards the end of the clip. The administration’s selling this war simultaneously as something modest to attract doves (just a limited attack to enforce the international taboo against WMD) and something ambitious to attract hawks (a game-changing operation to alter the momentum on the battlefield). Which is it? How can it be both? And what happens if the U.S. hits Assad so hard that the jihadis start to overrun the Syrian military before the “moderates” are strong enough to challenge them? If you think the rebels are brutal now, wait until they charge into Alawite and Christian neighborhoods with no fear of an army intervening to push them back.