Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Long March South

It is not too late to support the Free Syria Army.

The hand wringing over the rise of al Qaeda jihadis in Syria's rebellion and the problems of the Free Syria Army is just discouraging.

Did Iran, Russia, and Assad give up when they were on the ropes? No. When they looked around and--possibly in amazement at their luck in opponents--discovered that America wasn't making an effort to support those rebels, they began to work the problem.

Assad abandoned non-vital terrain to fight for a core Syria in the west, bolstered the depleted army with militias, brought in foreign volunteers to provide shock troops for the offensives, gained outside financing to make up for losses, and even neutered the threat from America by signing a pointless chemical weapons agreement.

And began killing and starving Syrians on a vast scale.

We, on the other hand, have gone from believing we don't need to do anything (other than a presidential statement that Assad should leave, in order to get in front of the parade) because Assad was doomed, to believing we can't do anything because either Assad wins or the ISIL al Qaeda jihadis win.

Indeed, we're dangerously close to having a policy that essentially supports Assad's slaughter as the best option to beat the jihadis.

Even those not giving up on getting rid of Assad have given up on the Free Syria Army, seeing the non-al Qaeda Islamists as the best hope:

Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre and an expert on Syria's Islamist groups, says the Islamic Front ''presents the best opportunity … to re-establish some Syrian authority over the armed opposition and to re-emphasise the original objectives of the revolution, which was to overthrow Assad''.

The Front could grow into a ''competitor to al-Qaeda'', he says, stemming the rising tide of Syrians joining groups linked to the terrorist network.

While I have no problem with supporting these nationalist Islamists--a revolution in a Moslem country is bound to have Moslems inspired by Islam, no?--I don't understand why we won't go all in to support FSA.

Yes, they are down now. But that isn't a permanent condition unless we make it so by denying them support.

Mao's Communist Army took a drubbing in China's civil war yet managed to conduct a "long march" to the north where they could escape the nationalists (while also fighting the Japanese at the same time). With Soviet support, Mao's forces strengthened and eventually emerged victorious to control China.

Why can't we do the same with the FSA if their position in northern Syria is being destroyed by rising Islamist fighters?

We have a position in Jordan where we hope to train rebels. Why not try to gather the FSA in the south where they can consolidate, train, arm up, and then try to expand their hold north and east to hopefully march on the capital one day?

Fortunes in war ebb and flow. They did in Iraq yet we adapted and worked each new problem, remember (and events are ebbing now, but it is not too late to help Iraqis achieve a good outcome).

We should be trying to bend events in our favor. But instead of working the problem, why are we more interested in joining Putin's coalition of the willing to save Assad?

One might think that America’s policy toward Syria couldn’t get any worse, but the rise of extremists there is generating dangerous thinking in Western capitals. High-level advisers and former officials have recently started to talk about Bashar al-Assad as a lesser evil than whatever comes next; some even see him as a potential partner in fighting jihadi terrorists.

Yes, I do believe I mentioned this bizarre spasm of so-called foreign policy thinking.

We can still win in Syria. But we have to try to defeat Assad to do that. We seem to have difficulty with comprehending that concept.