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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration picked what some undoubtedly found a curious time and place to complain about the perception of the president’s foreign policy as lacking virility.
The view at Colleville-sur-Mer is uniquely stunning and symbolic, representing the brave and ultimate sacrifices of the soldiers who saved civilization.
Rows upon rows of simple white crosses, and the occasional Star of David, sit against nothing but the emerald lawn and azure sky of Normandy, France.
Just below is Omaha Beach, where the allies landed on D-Day, June 6, 1944, spearheading the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.
This is also the setting where, as world leaders gathered Friday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of that bold, daring and crucial invasion, National Security Adviser Susan Rice chose to complain about the growing sentiment that President Obama’s foreign policy is weak and failed.
“I don’t think the criticism has been fair,” she told CNN, adding, “our leadership is unmatched.”
That might be news to former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who resigned in March and explained that last week by telling CNN, “I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy.”
“We have been unable to address either the root causes of the conflict in terms of the fighting on the ground and the balance on the ground, and we have a growing extremism threat,” he added.
But Rice specifically cited the president’s Syria policy as an example of robust leadership, along with his intention, announced recently in his speech at West Point, to increase aid to the some of the opposition in the country’s civil war.
That, however, leads to another problem: While many worry whether Obama’s Syria policy is weak, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is concerned about whether it is wise.
The senator told WND he questions the wisdom of sending of arms to Syria, as the administration plans, because of the risk those weapons will end up in the hands of hardcore terrorists.
Lee is so concerned, he was the only member of the Senate Armed Services committee to vote against approving the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, and that panel includes such strong conservatives as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
“This is a big deal to me,” Lee told WND, saying he’s particularly worried because U.S. Central Commander General Lloyd Austin could not assure him that the assistance America provides will not fall into the wrong hands.
Austin testified that some weapons undoubtedly will wind up in the hands of extremist groups such as al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), which is so radical, even al-Qaida severed relations with them.
The senator has even more reason to be concerned about Western weapons falling into the wrong hands — it has already happened.
In December, WND security expert and former Pentagon analyst F. Michael Maloof detailed how nearly all of the weapons supplied by the West to its ally, the Free Syrian Army, were captured by the Islamic Front, a group that subscribes to the strict Islamic law of sharia.
On Friday, Rice admitted the U.S has been supplying arms to rebels, and without addressing where those weapons have ended up, cited it as an example of how the administration “has ramped up its support for the moderate vetted opposition, providing lethal and nonlethal support where we can to support both the civilian opposition and the military opposition.”
Some administration critics have cited problems with identifying actual moderates in Syria.
Former ambassador Ford claimed, “We’ve identified them quite well now. Some people say, well, we don’t know them well enough; we can’t depend on them. We know them quite well. We’ve worked with them for years.”
Lee said he is sure there are some moderates, as well as “lots of others that are not anything close to what we would call moderates.”
But the real problem with vetting, Lee said, is the composition of those groups is changing constantly. “Those we might identify as moderates one day might not be the next day.”
So, who are the moderates the administration has identified in Syria?
President Obama met with the head of the opposition National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, in Washington last month, so that group seems a likely candidate to receive the weapons Obama is planning to send.
However, the National Coalition backs the Free Syria Army, and they are the ones who had their weapons captured in December.
The weapons were seized by the Islamic Front, which, Maloof reported in WND, is a “coalition of some seven so-called ‘moderate’ Islamic militant groups opposing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
However, the definition of moderate is one Westerners might find a stretch.
Maloof noted, “the Islamic Front’s published charter states that its aim is to establish an Islamic state in Syria with the implementation of Islamic law, or sharia” which calls for the subjugation of women and death to those who insult Islam or the prophet Muhammad.
These “moderate” Islamic militant groups, Maloof reported, “also are also firmly against secularism or any human legislation, believing that laws come only from Allah. It would make any non-Muslims in Syria, particularly Christians and other minorities, second-class citizens.”
The boundaries between even those so-called moderate groups and the hardcore Islamists such as al-Nusra and ISIL becomes even murkier, because they all collaborate.
Lee said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described these groups to be “in an agreement of convenience. The groups are quite fluid. They may disagree ideologically, but when it’s convenient for them, in a tactical context, they will agree to work together.”
Since the moderates will work with the fanatics, WND asked Lee, what’s the difference?
“Yeah. I don’t want to sound like there’s no way of ever knowing whether some people, or some groups within the opposition, are moderates, but there is enough fluidity out there to cause a real risk here,” the senator soberly reflected.
Maloof confirmed that fluidity when he reported, “Islamic Front members such as Ahrar al-Sham are difficult to distinguish from the al-Qaida-affiliated groups. Ahrar al-Sham, for example, recently conducted a joint raid with Nusra Front and ISIL against Hezbollah and pro-Assad militias.”
And Lee said that fluidity tells him, “You can’t just say ‘We’re going to vet the really well’ because even vetting them won’t necessarily assure that a group that you get today won’t tomorrow be affiliated with an effort that is hostile to the United States.”
Doesn’t that makes it nearly impossible to identify how strong the moderate force is, in reality?
“Yes, and it also makes it impossible for us to assure ourselves that aid that we provide won’t end up, one way or another, in the hands of those who have every intention of harming us. That worries me a lot.”
The lawmaker told WND that the uncertainty in sending arms to rebels in Syria has to be taken into account very seriously and ought to be debated separately from the rest of the NDAA, and be the subject of it’s own debate in Congress.
Lee looked back at last summer when there was a heated debate over whether to bomb Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks, “and there was a resounding and negative response from the American people, who made clear they were overwhelmingly against it.”
It doesn’t mean the idea of arming Syrian rebels would be rejected, he acknowledged, but he said it is certainly something we should discuss and debate.
In closing, WND asked the senator if he thought Obama actually might not mind arming jihadists, thinking they can be dealt with, as he thought about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?
“Well, perhaps. If he is inclined to go in this direction, if this is what he wants to do, that would suggest that he thinks he can manage it. It suggests that he thinks, perhaps, that we can affect those to whom we are providing assistance, and that will take care of it. But, again, the facts don’t bear that out.”
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth