January 24, 2014
Hey, let's support al Qaeda -- but, you know, the more "moderate" al Qaeda"
Wow, this is possibly one of the worst ideas ever. Generally I respect the guys who wrote this ... but supporting one branch of al Qaeda over the other because, you know, one is worse. This is like supporting Stalin over Hitler if they had actually fought over Poland:
First, Ahrar al-Sham and its partners in the Islamic Front, Syria’s largest rebel coalition, are at war with ISIS, which is a far bigger concern for the United States. ISIS has the strongest track record of supporting global jihad, and it has American blood on its hands from its war against U.S. forces in Iraq. ISIS is an indiscriminate killer of Syrian civilians and, finally, it is the primary conduit through which the conflict in Syria is spreading to al-Anbar in Iraq. The Islamic Front, including Ahrar al-Sham, represents the best hope in Syria for defeating ISIS.Wow, I don't know where to start with this. We should ally with militant Islamists because they are: a) less militant than ISIS; b) only want to impose Taliban style law locally; c) would bloody the nose of Iran.
Second, designating Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group would destroy what little chance the United States has of building relationships with the other militias in the Islamic Front. Those relationships will be important for ensuring that the Front treats Syrian civilians well during the war and after, should Assad ever be toppled. Making a direct enemy of Ahrar al-Sham would also make it extremely difficult for U.S. nongovernmental organizations to move aid through territory controlled by it and the Islamic Front, because U.S. law prohibits working with terrorist organizations.
Finally, Ahrar al-Sham’s leader, Hassan Abboud, has never endorsed bin Laden’s vision of a global jihad. His struggle is limited to Syria. Designating his group as a terrorist organization might backfire by pushing it completely into al Qaeda’s camp. (Indeed, Suri’s statement itself might be indicative of an internal debate about whether to hew closely to Nusra, ISIS’s rival claimant to al Qaeda’s mantle in Syria.)
Of those, only "c" is a goal worthy of pursuing. It is in our interests to see a weaker Iran in the region. The fall of Assad would bloody Iran's nose. But if that means that he is replaces by an Islamist government organized along the lines of the Taliban, then that's helpful because?
All of this is based on the false notion that if the US makes friends with these guys then we will be able to influence them in the long run. I call BS. Historical example of BS off the top of my head: arms-for-hostages -- remember when we reached out to "moderates" in Iran? How'd that work out for us.
That's just on the fly, I'm sure we could come up with a dozen examples of US policy backfiring when we supported "moderate" fascists.
The truth is that US national interests are served in an even more unsatisfying way than McCants et al. want to believe. Their argument is that keeping one branch of al Qaeda off the designated terror list is the least bad of a number of bad options. I disagree. The one option they haven't considered is that it is in our interests to prolong the war. To see that it ends in a stalemate. No one likes a stalemate, but Iran vs. al Qaeda vs. al Qaeda is a battle that serves or interests the longer it goes, not the shorter.
Moreover, there is a third actor here that has already driven out both militant Islamists and the Baathist regime from many areas in Syria: the Kurds.
Of all the groups involved in the conflict, the secular Kurds are our strongest ally in the region, the most moderate, and also the most successful at governing territory that has been liberated. If any group in this complex civil war deserves our help it is the Kurds. It is in a free and independent Kurdistan that we should be spending our time and efforts, not in failed colonial states like Syria and Iraq.
Let them kill each other until the last man standing claims to be the new Caliph or the Hidden Imam. More power to 'em.
Thanks to @pspoole