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In Syria, Rebel Movement Continues To Fracture

Has the moderate, Western-backed rebel force collapsed in Syria? And what if it’s an Islamist rebellion now?

Hezbollah fighters, left, mourn as they carry the coffin of their commander Ali Bazzi, who was killed in Syria during a battle against the Syrian rebels, during his funeral procession, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Hezbollah announced that two of its members, including a local commander, were killed while "performing their jihadi duties." Syrian troops captured a western town near the country's main north-south highway on Monday as the government forged ahead with a punishing offensive in a mountainous region near the border with Lebanon, state media said. (AP)

Hezbollah fighters, left, mourn as they carry the coffin of their commander Ali Bazzi, who was killed in Syria during a battle against the Syrian rebels, during his funeral procession, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Hezbollah announced that two of its members, including a local commander, were killed while “performing their jihadi duties.” Syrian troops captured a western town near the country’s main north-south highway on Monday as the government forged ahead with a punishing offensive in a mountainous region near the border with Lebanon, state media said. (AP)

From the early days of the conflict – now civil war – in Syria, American assertions have been loud and wrong.  The dictator Bashar al-Assad would go, said the US.  Years later, he’s there.  Chemical weapons use would cross a red line and bring American punishment, said Washington.  But it didn’t.  Last week, the US just got robbed blind on the Syrian border.  Western-stocked warehouses meant to support moderate Syrian rebels, picked clean by Islamist fighters.  It looked like a last straw.  This hour On Point:  Western-backed, moderate Syrian opposition in, many now say, collapse.

– Tom Ashbrook


Noah Bonsey, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. Lead author of the recent report, “Anything But Politics: The State of Syria’s Political Opposition.” (@NoahBonsey)

Leila Hilal, director the Middle East Task Force at the New American Foundation. (@LeilaHilal)

Sunjeev Bery, Middle East & North Africa Advocacy Director for Amnesty International. (@SunjeevBery)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Daily Telegraph: The good guys have lost in Syria – only the bad guys are left fighting — “This week, the US and Britain suspended non-lethal aid – such as communications equipment and trucks – to rebels in northern Syria, after bases belonging to the largely moderate, Western-backed Free Syrian Army were ransacked and their equipment seized by the Islamic Front. This rebel-on-rebel fratricidal orgy sums up so much that has gone wrong with Syria’s revolution.”

The Washington Post: U.S. may be open to Islamists joining Syrian rebel coalition — “The SMC, whose Free Syrian Army is the only opposition armed force the United States backs in Syria, has lost both strength and influence to anti-Assad Islamic groups. Among them is the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the al-Nusra Front, both of which have been labeled terrorist groups by Washington. But the increasingly powerful Islamic Front, while it includes many Salafists seeking an Islamic state in Syria, is not affiliated with al-Qaeda. Talks between U.S. envoy Robert Ford and Islamic Front figures held in Turkey last month were inconclusive, said the senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the developing policy.”

Buzzfeed: The End of the Free Syrian Army? – “FSA officials have suggested that the struggle with the Islamic Front might be resolved through negotiations, and that U.S. shipments might eventually resume. But speculation is already swirling that the FSA and its leadership under Gen. Salim Idriss — officially called the Supreme Military Command, or SMC, the political opposition’s military wing — might be at its end. One source close to the SMC called the Islamic Front’s recent aggression in Atimeh ‘an attack and overthrow, basically.’”

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  • Geheran1958

    It is almost a certainty that jihadists dominate the opposition forces in Syria. Like all jihadists they are savages in the image and likeness of their Prophet.

    • Jon

      yet we support them and what’s the difference of crusaders?

    • Shag_Wevera

      Ever read the Koran? Know any of the stories of Muhammed? Your post just seems like an ugly, ethnocentric American spouting ignorance. It isn’t any different than condeming the entire Catholic faith and tradition because of the sickness of some sick men.

    • brettearle

      Yeah, that’s what we want and need!

      A way to make things worse by demonization in an ugly way.

      Congratulations on making things worse….by following the ignorance and prejudice of all peoples, everywhere, in the history of mankind–who have helped to wage a religious war of bleak Hatred.

      Way to go!

      Keep up the wonderfully inventive work….

  • Coastghost

    What? Well, it has been a quick four months already, apparently plenty of time for a consequence to emerge from the swirl of Obama’s late-summer Syria Two-Step dance-a-thon.
    Question now: was this the preferred outcome Obama was angling for? or is this a sadly unintended consequence? (It’s always hard to tell whenever “yes” equals “no”.)

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    In retrospect, it looks like it was a good decision to not bomb Syria because of their use of chemical weapons, as inhumane as that is. If only we could have given more thought before making the idle threat in the first place. Syria, like the rest of the mddle east, is an unsettled, ungovernable mess. The less involvement, other than protecting our own interests, the better as it won’t improve the situation and they will simply hate us that much more, if that is even possible.

    • TELew

      Of course that “idle threat” has resulted in Syria giving up it’s chemical weapons. That’s something, huh?

      • Fiscally_Responsible

        There is a great deal more work in having Syria really give up its chemical weapons, so the jury is still out on whether it will really happen or not. Also, instead of the U.S. taking the lead, it would be nice if the U.N. or one of our back stabbing allies like the French spend their blood and treasure fixing this part of the world.

        • TELew

          The real workings of the chemical weapons issue neither of us know.

          However, as far as “fixing” that part of the world, neither the U.S., U.N., nor any other country is going to do that. We have seen the failure of applying military force in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have witnessed the failure of a “soft” policy in Egypt and now Syria.

          The problem lies in trying to impose western ideals on a region that has a long history and culture shaped by a different set of ideals. Surely there are elements in these societies that would prefer democracy, but the election of the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrates the probable outcome of such elections in Muslim Middle Eastern countries.

          The fact is that western-oriented forces desiring secular, pluralistic societies are in the minority. With American aid their victory is unlikely; without American aid they will be crushed. They have no significant popular support. To make these countries more amenable to the West, fundamental changes in these societies must occur. Such changes will take decades if not centuries are to occur. And continued Western intervention–whether hard or soft force–only feeds into the prevailing myth driving Islamist groups, especially al-Quaeda, of the West as continuing the tradition of the Crusaders. Of course that myth in many ways is not that far from the truth.

          It’s a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. In the past we could pick the most likely winner and support that side. Today, whichever side we support will be seen as puppets of the West. The winner will be one which appeals to the popular anti-Western Islamist ideals.

  • Shag_Wevera

    I’ always surprised how many stories this show does on the Syrian conflict. We don’t really know who any of theses factions are, and won’t until well after it is over. The one sure thing is to stay the heck out of it.

    • Don_B1

      Humanitarian aid is necessary to at least attempt to keep the Syrian conflict from spreading to other countries and may have the effect of earning some positive acknowledgements if not winning hearts and minds.

      One of the aspects that leads to blaming the U.S. is the feeling of each of the different factions that if we had helped them then they would be better off.

      What needs to be conveyed is that they have to learn to work together for a joint victory that no outsider can supply, as under that scenario, where one group wins with an outsider’s support, the winner feels entitled to enforcing their way not working with all the other groups to benefit the whole country.

  • RolloMartins

    Obama dithered, the extremists took advantage, the Syrians lose out. Congratulations, USA. Another country hates you.

    • Steve Monahan

      “I burned my toast! – Thanks, Obama!”

    • TELew

      I really doubt that any American leader could have dealt with this situation effectively–not Romney, not Santorum, not McCain, and not even the Decider.

      I don’t recall Syria being that friendly to us before this debacle.

  • Coastghost

    Is “the moderate opposition” Sec Kerry speaks of identical to the Syrian population now domiciled in Jordan? What distinctions can be discerned amidst the Syrian diaspora in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq?

  • Unterthurn

    If there is a muslim / islam majority in a country there is no chance at Democracy. Name a civilized islam country? Name a muslim country where women are treated equally to men? These tax dollars would be better spend in US infrastructure.

    • Labropotes

      I’ve traveled in Turkey. Only nicer people I ever met were in Scotland.

      • Shag_Wevera

        BOOM! SNAP!

    • Don_B1

      I find treatment of women relative to men despicable in many countries, not limited to Islamist ones.

      Even the treatment of women in the United States falls short of what it should be, and the Republican war on women’s reproductive health is making it worse here.

      China probably does not treat its women that much better than Muslim countries?

      So using a country’s treatment of women to distinguish between levels of civilization is not a good metric.

  • Steve Monahan

    Every time the U.S. gets involved in Middle Eastern Politics, it serves to create more and more hatred for us in the region. As far as intervention goes, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that I should look my neighbor in the eye and tell him he should send his son/daughter into that meat grinder to support people that already hate us and want us all to just die.

    • James Patrick Dwyer Jr.

      I am a Vietnam vet and agree with you totally.

  • J__o__h__n

    If we had gotten involved, the region would still be complaining about the US’s actions and the country will still end up either a dictatorship or Islamist. We wisely stayed out of this mess.

  • hennorama

    Caller Sumner sounds like his recipe is “sprinkle liberally with weapons and stir,” and that the outcome will magically be ideal.

    • Labropotes

      Two stages, first replace the cancer with infection, then replace the infection with perfection. Piece of cake.

      • hennorama

        Labropotes — which people are “the cancer,” this month?

        • Labropotes

          I was referring to what Ms Hilal said about the need to first support the rebels, whoever they are, and then once Assad is gone, proceeding to remove Al Qaida from the nascent government. It worked so well elsewhere, right?

          • hennorama

            Labropotes — TY for your explanatory response.

            Indeed, one must be greatly concerned about who and what might replace Assad and his regime, should regime change occur. There is no “magic bullet” cure for Syria, even if the “magic bullet” were to be delivered by Seal Team Six.

        • Labropotes

          Henny, When have I called anyone a cancer, let alone done so monthly? Snark much?

          • hennorama

            Labropotes — I think we again have a failure to communicate. Your explanatory response improved my understanding of your original post. As to my reply, the intention was playful, as in “this month’s cancer can be next month’s cure,” as the US has demonstrated in regards to the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (and elsewhere) over the years.

  • Labropotes

    Disgruntled citizens of the world take note. War causes suffering. Don’t start one assuming that someone else will finish it for you.

  • alsordi

    This “civil war” in Syria is the Project for a New American Century at play. The elitist neocon psychopaths (Perle , Wolfowitz etc.) who have since the “no WMDs” have scurried like cockaroaches behind the cupboard. But they are still pulling the strings through the power of AIPAC and its thinktanks, to help create this mess to destabilize every muslim country in the Middle East, leaving Israel and the Saudi Kingdom in charge.

    • TELew

      Yeah, they created the Sunni-Shia divide in Syria that has lasted since the first century of Islam (Syria has a majority Sunni population but a quasi-Shia government–that’s why they get along with Iran so well.)

      And they are also responsible for the existence of Islamist groups, especially al-Quaeda.

      It’s great when conspiracy theories are REAL!

  • Guest

    All the turmoil and struggle in Syria Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries shows just how precious our government and constitution is. It should not be taken for granted. A government for the people, by the people.

  • Geheran1958

    Why does Islam so easily lend itself to being “hijacked” and “misunderstood” so that there are armed Islamic jihad groups waging jihad warfare in the name of Islam in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere? Why do all these armed Islamic groups claim that they are following Islam authentically? Why do they all cite the same sources of Islamic faith, the Qur’an and ahadith, to justify their actions and make recruits among peaceful Muslims? What are Islamic groups in Wichita, Brooklyn, London or anywhere else doing to prevent their faith from being “twisted” to “unrecognizable extremes”? What programs do mosques in the U.S. have in place to keep people like Major Hassan from misunderstanding Islam as having something to do with causing “maximum carnage” among unbelievers? The time has come for the West, especially its political elites, to recognize the reality of jihadism and the threat it poses to the world.

    • wbsurfver

      Why don’t you try to figure out who funds these groups for starters .. You may have to look elsewhere other than the regular media sources

      • spiral007

        source of funding by large is saudi arabia…pushing its brand of islam ie wahabism.

      • Geheran1958

        The funding of jihadism is fairly well known. It includes but is not limited to rich Saudi princes, Iran, sources in the Gulf Oil kingdoms, a plethora of Islamic “charities”, ransoms paid by the West for the release of hostages, the ummah who make their “zakat” contributions, et al. Until the FBI and the US Department of Justice put them out of business a few years ago, the “Holy Land Foundation” Islamic charity was one of the largest sources of funds for militant Islam.

    • brettearle

      That’s well said.

      I suspect that the radical and violent nature of Islam Fundamentalism is holding the more moderate factions of Islam, hostage.

      When don’t the extreme factions, of any.wide political movement, drive the agenda–militant or otherwise?

      In the end, either war is waged and the cause may finally be lost, by full defeat. Or the movement, itself, must implode by all other representative groups, within the larger tent, dismantling the radical militants–and then regrouping into a new and much more restrained version of all they tand for.

      Could take decades. Can’t predict. Many non-Islam countries need to assemble and to confer, about this.

      I don’t think that’s going to happen.

      But your summary is a good one.

      Right after 9/11, I had the ear of a famous politician and I asked him why we aren’t hearing restraint from the traditional Muslim leaders.

      He thought that my question was an excellent one–and he was without an answer.

      The answer must be, frankly, that most of them are afraid of retaliation. And, too, some secretly agree with the malicious approach.

  • jefe68

  • Michael Bristol

    The spin that the Free Syrian Army was everything but thugs and brigands sent by Saudi Arabia and Qatar might unravel yet.

  • MrBigStuff

    Is anyone surprised by this? What exactly is the thought process that’s going through the minds of the Obama Administration and the State Dept.?

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