President Obama is making a big mistake by arming the Syrian rebels because the administration still cannot identify the ones we can trust, warns retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney.
McInerney also wonders how there can be any talk of a U.S.-led no-fly zone in Syria since the Obama administration has grounded a large percentage of the Air Force, allegedly over sequestration.
The general rose to assistant vice chief of staff in the U.S. Air Force and was vice commander in chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He is currently a Fox News military analyst.
Last week, the Obama administration publicly concluded that the Bashar al-Assad regime deployed chemical weapons against the rebels earlier in the year and the U.S. will begin arming the rebels and helping to effect regime change
But McInerney told WND it's hard to see the compelling U.S. interest in getting involved in another nation's civil war. He's even more concerned that the administration can't even identify the trustworthy actors in a rebellion featuring forces loyal to al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood.
"What are our interests in Syria today? They want to back Gen. (Salem) Idris of the Free Syrian Army? That's the wrong part of the Free Syrian Army. They don't even know the right part of the Free Syrian Army that they want to back," McInerney said. "So that makes it even more troubling, and we're going to get into what we got in in Libya and resulted in Benghazi – supporting a radical Islamist state when we already had a tyrant there who was supporting us."
McInerney said while it is possible to find the right factions within the rebellion and deal exclusively with them, the Obama administration seems to have little interest in correctly identifying those elements.
"This administration doesn't want to listen to the people who know who the reputable allies are, so that's the real difficulty," he said.
The general also scoffs at the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria, thanks to what he considers wrong priorities by the administration in response to some modest belt-tightening.
"You know where the no-fly zones are today? Over all the U.S. Air Force bases," McInerney said. "We have grounded one-third of the United States Air Force because of sequestration and the lack of the administration's initiative to ensure that these units are not standing down. So we have a huge problem there.
"If we tried to do a no-fly zone against a rather sophisticated air defense system in Syria, it would cost a lot of resources that, frankly, aren't available right now because of the sequestration and the stand down driven by the Obama administration,"he said.
So what should the U.S. do? McInerney largely agrees with former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who says containing the threat posed by any remaining weapons of mass destruction is by far the top U.S. national security interest in Syria. McInerney said it is especially critical to make sure the weapons don't get to Hezbollah.
The general also noted that the public is giving thumbs down to the Obama policy, an assessment backed by a new poll showing 70 percent of Americans oppose arming the rebels.
"The American people do not want to get involved, particularly with boots on the ground, with any forces in Syria right now. And they're right," McInerney said. "Should we take out Bashar Assad? Yeah, I'd take him out, but that still won't solve the problem. You've got Russia, Iran and Hezbollah all backing Bashar Assad right now. So that's the difficulty."