The Obama administration and its congressional allies who favor strikes on Syria insist the rebels there are moderates and that any radical elements involved are a tiny fraction of the opposition who would never take power if the rebellion succeeds.
Other evidence suggests rebel forces are responsible for executions of Syrian soldiers, the live dismembering of Christians and even cannibalism.
So who's right?
"The rebel forces are now dominated by jihadists, from al-Qaida to Hezbollah to some of the forces that are just pure Muslim mercenaries," said Ken Blackwell, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. "All you have to do is to look at who has been brutalized by this rebellion group. The most dominant victim has been Christians. When you look at that, you have to raise the question, 'Why would we support forces that are hellbent on creating hell on Earth for Christian believers in Syria?"
When asked to answer his own question, Blackwell told WND lack of clarity from Washington is a big part of the problem.
"There's no coherent Middle East policy within the Obama administration. There's no clarity of purpose, no real set of objectives for why we should be engaged, what our interests are and who our true allies are," he said. "This is an administration that stiff arms (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, that turns a cold shoulder toward allies in the U.K. and who, over the past several years, has embraced and been a cheerleader for the Muslim Brotherhood."
That characterization is very different than the description of the rebels by the likes of President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Obama and Kerry have stated that radical elements of the rebellion make up an insignificant percentage of the opposition and would not be a threat to take control over Syria should Bashar Assad be removed from power. McCain has goes even further, contending that there are no radical elements among the rebels.
"I think they've gone 'Through the Looking Glass.' There are other folks who are in contact with forces on the ground and those who are being victimized. They just paint a different picture," said Blackwell, who believes the ineptitude of Obama is on full display right now.
"This is a clear situation where Putin has played the president for a chump," he said. "Assad is being very, very slippery. There are no Boy Scouts in this battle. We have an administration that hasn't taken the Middle East seriously, that tends to be very unsophisticated in its understanding of the jihadist movement in the Middle East and now they want us to believe that they're in command of the situation."
Blackwell said Obama's handling of this and other Middle East crises sends exactly the wrong message to our enemies and the rest of the world.
"The way that the game is played in the Middle East is that no one there respects weakness. They exploit weakness. I think they see us as a hapless giant at this point in the way that we are behaving. Our policy is not decisive," Blackwell said. "As a consequence, I think that there's a lack of confidence and therefore a lack of respect for the administration and, consequently, for America."
The civil war in Syria is creating some strange bedfellows, pitting some elements of Hezbollah against their own benefactors in Iran and in the Assad regime. Blackwell described how these lines got drawn and why the shifting focus of the Obama administration is flawed in his judgment.
"This is a fight among cousins, when you get right down to it. This is an internecine, tribal, intra-religious war. That's a problem. This administration hasn't looked at it with the sort of real politik sophistication of previous administrations and right now, they are wandering," Blackwell explained.
"There's an old African proverb, 'If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.' That's what this Obama administration is playing out right now. They don't know where they're going, so today this road will take them there. Tomorrow that road will take them there. What they're breeding is confusion and uncertainty here on the home front, and that's really, really never a good way to proceed to protect U.S. interests."