Remember the debate the Iraq War alliance of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists wanted over Syria? Either we back democratic forces ousting Assad or we are complicit in mass-murder. As with Iraq, they wanted no debate about what might happen after Assad was gone, because that might prompt memories of what happened the last time a Baathist dictator fell in a country riven by sectarianism.
And they were always a little hedgy when it came to the nature of the forces fighting Assad. They ignored the deep sectarian grievances (as they did in Iraq); they spoke of “democracy” as an alternative, even as the exile groups and the Free Syrian Army were unable to muster the kind of intensity and fighting skills of Sharia-law Sunni Jihadists. And now, just a few weeks after the neocon-liberal interventionist chorus demanded we aid the rebels as quickly as possible, we discover the following:
11 rebel groups issued a statement [Tuesday] declaring that the opposition could be represented only by people who have “lived their troubles and shared in what they have sacrificed.” Distancing themselves from the exile opposition’s call for a democratic, civil government to replace Mr. Assad, they called on all military and civilian groups in Syria to “unify in a clear Islamic frame.” Those that signed the statement included three groups aligned with the Western-backed opposition’s Supreme Military Council … “We found it was time to announce publicly and clearly what we are after, which is Shariah law for the country and to convey a message to the opposition coalition that it has been three years and they have never done any good for the Syrian uprising and the people suffering inside,” said [Mohannad al-Najjar, an activist close to the leadership of one of the statement’s most powerful signers, Al Tawhid Brigade].
So Leon Wieseltier and Christiane Amanpour were unwittingly arguing only a couple weeks ago for giving arms to groups increasingly indistinguishable from those determined to impose Sharia law in Syria. It took several years for the errors of that very same pro-war coalition to realize that their equally admirable goals in Iraq were completely overtaken by reality (and I was one of them). It has taken just a couple of weeks for the same kind of brutal reality to bite in Syria.
Can you imagine the pickle we’d be in right now if we’d been aiding the opposition for as long as John McCain wanted? In a civil war, the extremists always gain the upper hand. And we’d have given serious arms – even indirectly – to forces bent on the most brutal methods of Jihad.
(Photo: A Turkish fighter of the jihadist group Al-Nusra Front, bearing the flag of Al-Qaeda on his jacket (C-back), holds position with fellow comrades on April 4, 2013 in the Syrian village of Aziza, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo. By Guillaume Briquet/AFP/Getty Images.)