By Bruce Fein – – Tuesday, September 16, 2014
President Barack Obama and Congress are fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from an ivory tower of unreality. And no war was ever won from an ivory tower.
A compelling example is the United States’ plan to vet elements of the Syrian opposition. But the vetting plan for Syria is more impractical than the World War II idea to boil the oceans to destroy Nazi submarines.
Last June, President Obama submitted for congressional consideration a training and equipment program worth $500 million for Syrian moderates to be carried out by the Department of Defense. In anticipation of the request, the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 2 approved a bill which elaborated the vetting which the Secretary of Defense must perform before qualifying a member of the Syrian opposition for receipt of the military
The recipients must not be a listed foreign terrorist organization, and must be “committed to rejecting terrorism…opposed to sectarian violence and revenge killings [and] committed to establishing a peaceful, pluralistic, and democratic Syria that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens and committed to civilian rule, including subordinating the military to civilian authority, and the rule of law for Syria.”
If that vetting isn’t laughable, the word has no meaning. The Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad is Sunni. They have been radicalized by persecution for decades at the hands of the ruling Alawites, a Shiite sect. None are moderates. They are engaged in sectarian violence. They do not believe in equal rights for women. They do not believe in equal rights for Christians or Jews. They have no conception of the rule of law, separation of powers, or due process. They have never practiced or embraced democracy. In other words, if the vetting is serious, not a single member of the Syrian opposition will qualify for aid.
But the vetting is not serious. It is to be executed by the Defense Department, whose training is in killing, not in civics. Members of the United States military are not experts in democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms, or the rule of law. If they were, they would be screening candidates for the United States Supreme Court, not the Syrian opposition.
In any event, the vetting standards themselves are utopian. If they were applied by France during the American Revolution, the Continental Army of General George Washington would have been disqualified for military assistance because blacks, women, and religious minorities in the colonies were then second-class citizens, non-citizens, or chattel.
The Armed Services Committee bill states that the vetting should pivot on “a review of available information.” But what does that mean? If the burden is on the government to discover affirmative proof that a recipient is a saintly adherent of Enlightenment thinking, then none will satisfy the vetting. If the burden on the government is to discover disqualifying information from government databases or in-person interrogation, then none will be disqualified. The government does not customarily collect intelligence as to whether a foreign fighter subscribes to due process or the trappings of democracy. And none would be so stupid as to confess to a disqualifying belief.
In sum, the plan by the Obama administration and Congress to vet the Syrian opposition betrays a leap into Alice in Wonderland unworthy of the seriousness of war.