Earlier today, I commented on the seizure by Syrian Islamist rebels of warehouses containing non-lethal equipment provided by the U.S. government to the Supreme Military Council. The SMC is the military arm of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the non-jihadist rebel group we have been backing.
The Obama administration responded by suspending shipments through Turkey of non-lethal aid to the SMC. Its theory, sensible enough, is that that we don’t want our vehicles, communications equipment and so forth to fall into the hands of jihadists, and that we cannot prevent this outcome in the north of Syria.
But now, via the Washington Post, comes word that the administration is considering “supporting an expanded Syrian rebel coalition that would include Islamist groups” as long as they are not allied with al Qaeda. Apparently these groups are so despicable that we can’t risk our trucks falling into their hands, but not so despicable as to require their exclusion from a U.S. backed coalition.
What is going on here?
The main driver, as with so much of Obama’s foreign policy these days, is the insatiable thirst of the President and his Secretary of State for negotiations. President Obama and John Kerry envisaged negotiations between Assad and his backers on the one hand and the Syrian Opposition Coalition on the other. The goal would be a settlement under which Assad steps down and and is replaced by a transitional government.
This approach always seemed fanciful. But now, with the Syrian Opposition Coalition so badly marginalized — thanks in no small part to U.S. indifference — the approach is too outlandish for even Obama to pursue.
Plan B turns out to be an attempt to lure the emerging rebel player — the Islamic Front — into an embrace of the Obama-Kerry approach to the negotiations. Thus, according to the Post, the administration is considering giving its support to an expanded coalition that includes the Islamic Front if that group will support the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s leadership in upcoming Geneva negotiations.
What this really means, I assume, is backing the Obama-Kerry vision of a settlement in which a transitional government replaces Assad.
Unfortunately, the goal of the Syrian Islamists is not to replace the Assad regime with some sort of kinder, gentler coalition government. From all that appears, their goal is to conquer as much territory as possible with which to create an Islamist state governed by Shiria law.
Thus, Plan B seems as ludicrous as its predecessor, if not more so.
This is true whether or not the Islamists in question are allied with al Qaeda. Nor should we assume that our intelligence services can reliably determine whether or to what extent such alliances exist.
The Obama administration tells the Washington Post that, as a condition of supporting a coalition that includes Islamists, it also wants them to return the supplies they seized from the Supreme Military Council. “We want our stuff back,” said a senior administration official.
This, I suspect, is just talk. Presumably, the Islamists can have plenty of free stuff if they will just play along with Obama and Kerry in the negotiating game.
But the Islamists are looking for absolute power. The free stuff will come later