The only thing unraveling faster than Syria is President Obama’s Syria policy. There is, of course, a relationship between the two downward spirals.
This morning comes word that eleven of the biggest armed factions among the Syrian rebels have repudiated the Western-backed opposition to the Assad regime and formed an alliance dedicated to establishing an Islamic state. Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, is the lead signatory to this new coalition.
The coalition claims to represent 75 percent of the rebel opposition. Compare this to the 10 to 20 percent figure at which our intelligence agencies have estimated rebel support for Jabhat al-Nusra and other al Qaeda-related outfits.
Did our intelligence agencies get it wrong? I don’t think so. In all likelihood, Syrian rebels haven’t abandoned Western-backed groups because they are al Qaeda sympathizers. They have switched because the jihadists are now “the strong horse” — much better armed and equipped, and maybe better trained, than the less extreme alternative.
At this point, with the Iranian-backed Assad regime on the rise, the Syrian civil war is a daily fight for survival. Naturally, the rebel combatants wish to be allied with the forces most likely to thrive, or at least survive. The al Qaeda forces now fit the bill.
They fit it mostly because the United States has failed to provide the “vetted” opposition with arms and military equipment at the levels needed to make that opposition a credible “horse.” And, compared to the Western-backed forces, the jihadists are not demoralized by the failure of the U.S. to follow through on promised air attacks on the Assad regime. The jihadist backers are delivering on their promises.
Common sense tells us that if the defections were motivated by pro-jihadist ideology, the defectors would have aligned themselves with the jihadists in the first instance. Their defections at this late date, following mounting evidence of America’s fecklessness, is consistent with statements attributed to leaders of the defectors that they see the West as “betraying us” and “wanting to negotiate with the regime over our blood.”
Indeed, Abu Hassan, a spokesman for the defecting Tawheed Brigade in Aleppo, explained his group’s decision by citing disappointment with the Obama administration’s failure to launch threatened military strikes and its decision to strike a deal with Russia over ways to negotiate a solution. If this is the best Obama can offer, why cast one’s lot with clueless America?
Speaking of clueless America, the Washington Post describes the Obama administration as “surprised” by the announcement of the new Islamist alliance in Syria. The State Department’s spokesperson assured us, however, that U.S. officials have “seen the reports.” That’s better than not seeing them, I suppose.
The Obama presidency has triggered neither the receding of the tides nor the repeal of human nature. Weakness, however much couched as high-mindedness, is still weakness. Potential friends still recoil from it; adversaries still pounce on it. Everyone with skin in the game regards it with contempt.
Only fools find this surprising.