Did John McCain, the U.S. Senator from Arizona and 2008 Republican presidential candidate, pose for smiling photos with ISIS, getting all buddy-buddy with members of the brutal militant group now taking over city after city in Iraq, with the aim of seizing control of the whole country?
A pair of photos has been circulating this week, showing John McCain and a group of Middle Eastern fighters, at least one of whom is apparently armed in the photos. The shots were taken in Syria last year, when McCain made a secret trip into that civil-war-torn country to meet with leaders of one of the rebel groups that the Arizona senator believes the U.S. should support.
After the trip, McCain released the photos to the U.S. media and discussed his experience in Syria, calling for United States military intervention on behalf of rebels there attempting to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But on various internet sites this week, the photos from McCain's sneak visit to Syria have reappeared -- along with the claim that ISIS itself is now posting the photos as part of its PR campaign. ISIS has earlier posted photos of such interesting subjects as the beheaded corpse of one of its victims with a joke about using the man's head as a soccer ball.
With McCain now one of the leading advocates for U.S. military intervention against ISIS in Iraq, is it possible that he really met with ISIS members on friendly terms a year ago? Needless to say, the story is not as simple as it sounds.
McCain entered Syria with under the guidance of Mouaz Moustafa, a 29-year-old former congressional aide who was born in Syria but has spent much of his life in the U.S. Moustafa is the man on the far right in the above photo.
In Syria, McCain met with high-ranking members of what he called "moderate" factions of the Syrian rebels, specifically the Free Syrian Army, which was then led by General Salim Idris, who is the man next to McCain, with the striped shirt and mustache, in this photo:
Idris was later fired by the FSA as military commander for being "ineffective" and because he "lacked the military experience to run operations on the ground." He was not fired for being "too moderate" as some political sites have reported this week, as they posted the photos of McCain with the rebel leaders.
The same sites claim that these same Syrian rebels have since gone on to join ISIS and are now waging brutal civil war inside Iraq. But the fact is, there is no way to directly connect the people posing in the photo with John McCain to ISIS — though ISIS itself does claim to represent rebel forces in Syria as well as in Iraq. There has also been no independent confirmation that ISIS is actually circulating the photos of McCain itself.
On the other hand, it is not surprising that John McCain would support U.S. military intervention against ISIS on one hand and for the Syrian rebels on the other. John McCain has a long history of calling for U.S. military intervention in conflicts all over the world.
Here, courtesy of Mother Jones magazine, is a map of all of the countries where John McCain has at some point called for the United States to send troops or bombing raids.