This Is Not The Rebellion You’re Looking For

This morning, the day after the September 11 anniversary, I awoke to news that CIA supplied arms have begun reaching Syrian rebels. My first thought was, Great, we’re arming al Qaeda terrorists the day after we remember al Qaeda terrorists’ most deadly attack on us. A little research showed that the reality is a little more complicated than that.


According to the site PolicyMic, there are several different factions:

The early predictions of the Syrian revolution have proven to be unfounded. We know that our journalist’s constant comparisons with the speedy downfalls of Ben Ali’s Tunisia and Mubarak’s Egypt were irrelevant in a country as complex as Syria.

The opposition — despite remarkable resilience against an enemy that can outnumber, outgun, and outmanoeuvre — still exhibits a chronic lack of resources and little central organization between factions. In its current form, the Assad government looks safe for some time to come.

Numbering 50,000 men, the Free Syrian Army, a self-declared non-sectarian group of early army defectors, remains the largest opposition group in the country. But during the past year other factions have entered the fray. If their numbers, as well as their political views are anything to go by, the possibility of a united front seems remote.

The Syrian Liberation Front, numbering 37,000 fighters, and the Syrian Islamic Front, numbering 13,000 fighters, operate in Syria’s southeast and northeast respectively. Both of these groups espouse an Islamist ideology, in contrast to the self-declared non-sectarianism of the Free Syrian Army.

That’s a lot of fronts (splitters). But not to worry! NPR has looked into it (emphasis mine):

The U.S. Special Operations Command commissioned a study of rebel groups last year, working with pollsters and drawing on a network of activists.

Mouaz Moustafa, who works for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an advocacy group based in Washington, carried out the polling. He says his organization interviewed 1,000 people in 14 Syrian provinces. Moustafa says he’s had multiple meetings with Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as other key military officials.

“I can say in confidence that the U.S. government knows who the rebels are,” he says. “They know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are.”

Well isn’t that reassuring? We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of Benghazi, Snowden and Wikileaks have made it their business to embarrass the intelligence community, we can’t secure our own border and don’t know who is or isn’t coming into the US…but hey, we know who’s who in a foreign country where we have almost no national interest! Honest!

Further down in the same NPR piece, we find this little gem:

How many rebels are moderates and how many are extremists?

This is the hardest question to answer with any certainty, say all of these analysts. In the U.S. debate, “moderate’ tends to get translated as “secular,” says [Swedish journalist Aron] Lund. The rebellion is now heavily colored by religion, he adds.

“Most of the groups are not secular” in any way recognizable to Americans, he says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t work with rebels just because some are very conservative or even radical Islamists. The U.S. has worked with sectarian and Islamist groups before in Iraq and Libya.”

That should end well.

Can we be assured that we won’t be arming the type of rebels who eat human hearts? Or the rebels who are torturing and murdering people? Or the rebels who are murdering Christians if they don’t convert to Islam? Or the al-Nusra rebels who pledged allegiance to al Qaeda?

I guess we should just trust the CIA. They have such a wonderful track record when it comes to Middle East involvement.

My friend and fellow blogger Pradheep Shanker has been looking at the Syrian war (here, here, and here most recently). In short, our goals and interests are unclear. Certainly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is no angel. However, he has been a largely secular leader, allowing for various religions to live peacefully, particularly Jews and Christians. The majority of the rebels are Islamist and have zero tolerance for other religions. And we cannot be sure that it wasn’t rebels who used chemical weapons in the first place.

The bottom line: Our military is stretched perilously thin, we’re broke, and we have no direct security interest in Syria. We have no business arming anyone in the Syrian civil war. If the use of chemical weapons violated UN rules, let the UN handle it. If the Saudis and the EU are so concerned, let the Saudis and the EU handle it.

Sadly, we ARE involved now. The Russians have seemingly bailed us out of a military response, having jumped on a John Kerry brain fart and run with it. This gives us the opportunity for a diplomatic solution, tenuous though it may be.

Maybe someone should send the CIA a memo.

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