“I don’t think there’s any credibility left in the Middle East,” Sen. John McCain told Chris Cuomo this morning on CNN’s New Day after the retreat on Syria. That was in response to a question Cuomo asked about Barack Obama’s new “red line” with Iran, but it’s the continuing theme of McCain on all points of policy following the retreat on military strikes. McCain insists that we’ve effectively rejected regime change and given Bashar al-Assad a green light on escalating the civil war, as long as it happens with conventional weapons:
On a diplomatic deal, Senator McCain said, “I think what they are pursuing is a laudable goal, but there’s no real way to achieve it, number one. Number two is that you now give Putin a major place in this whole scenario and in the Middle East.”
“Until you reverse the momentum on the battle field, and Bashar al-Assad thinks he’s going to lose, is the only way you get a negotiated departure of Bashar al-Assad,” Senator McCain said. “As long as he thinks he’s winning, particularly with the assistance that he’s getting from the Russians and the Iranians. As we speak today, there will be a plane load of arms, conventional weapons, landing from Moscow to be used to kill Syrians. At the same time, we are dismantling the chemical weapons stocks. That’s crazy.”
Equally crazy, though, would be McCain’s strategy of arming the rebels. While the Assad regime is certainly horrible and despotic, the effective elements of the “oppositionists” are no better, and arguably worse for American interests. They’re primarily radical Islamist extremists with ties to al-Qaeda, including the most effective unit in the field, Jabhat al-Nusra, which openly declared its allegiance to AQ nearly a year ago. The Nusra Front has control of a major city and its economic output, making themselves one of the best resourced armies in the field.
The best play for the US in this game would have been not to play. Now we look foolish, weak, and apparently unable to control events around our own policy. That’s not exactly style points when it comes to global security. McCain calls this “provocative weakness,” and he’s correct on that point, but deadly wrong on how to correct it.