For the past weeks, CNN’s Arwa Damon and Wolf Blitzer have formed what amounts to a two-person vaudeville show in support of Syria’s most extreme Islamist rebels, the Nusra Front, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the Obama administration. Damon, especially, has gotten so deeply enmeshed with the rebel fighters that she has lost all traces of objective reporting, and in recent days she has sharply criticized the fact that the administration has called the gangsters from Al Nusra “terrorists.”
But terrorists they are.
That doesn’t mean that the administration is handling Syria properly. The revolt against President Assad is so fluid and complex that the United States is struggling to distinguish one rebel from another, and its designation of the Nusra Front may have little or no consequences in the real world. That’s because right-wing Arab Islamist billionaires in the Persian Gulf and ultraconservative kleptocracies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supporting Muslim extremists in Syria as part of an anti-Iran, Sunni power play that fears not using everyone from Al Nusra to the Muslim Brotherhood in its frenzy to topple Assad.
Rightly, the Obama administration has shied away from direct support for the rebels. And US analysts are well aware that huge chunks of the rebellion, including its most fanatical fighters, suicide bombers and assassins are associated with a wide range of Islamist extremist groups, not just Al Nusra. Now, the United States is about to recognize a newly formed rebel clique as the legitimate opposition, and it’s trying to avoid including the radicals in what emerges from the rubble of Syria in the end. Good luck with that.
As the assault on the US outpost in Benghazi shows, you don’t always get what you want. (The events in Benghazi are another reason why Susan Rice shouldn’t be secretary of state, not for the reason that the Republicans say but because she was the lead advocate inside the administration for the bungled policy that led to the US/NATO bombing in Libya. But that’s another story.)
Here’s the lede, meanwhile, from Arwa Damon’s latest at CNN. Note how it makes her sound like a PR flack for Al Nusra:
In designating the al-Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organization and an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, the U.S. State Department has put flesh on the bones of its policy of discriminating between the “bad” Syrian rebels and the “good” ones. But the decision is getting mixed reviews in Syria. Rebels in brigades fighting around Aleppo have told CNN that the move is a miscalculation. Their argument goes something like this: ‘The U.S. and the West in general have given us next to no help while we’ve witnessed thousands die at the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s heavy weaponry and dominance of the skies. To add insult to injury, Washington has now proscribed one of the most effective fighting forces among rebel groups. We may not share al-Nusra’s worldview, but we need their organizational and battlefield experience.”
Note that the quote in the passage above is not a quote from an actual Syrian rebel, but something that Damon made up to make her argument!
Need it be said that Al Nusra is simply an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and that if the rebels win in Syria and Al Nusra and its allies flourish, it will mean that Syria officially will support the Sunni-led insurgents in Iraq, creating yet another civil war in an Arab country? That one, too, will drag in Iran in support of Prime Minister Maliki and his allies.
Meanwhile, the United States is getting in deeper. It’s sending NATO-backed Patriot missiles to Turkey to intimidate Assad, and it’s loudly warning that it will intervene directly if Assad makes use of chemical weapons.
Will the U.S. intervene in Syria? Check out Pepe Escobar on "Obama in Tehran."