Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan near Idlib, Syria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
General Martin Dempsey is at it again. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is traveling in the Middle East, seemingly making it clear that he doesn’t want any part of the war in Syria. As I reported a while back, in a letter to members of Congress Dempsey had earlier warned that all of the options open to the United States in the Syrian civil war are bad ones. At that time, Dempsey drew fire from hawks and from advocates who want more and stronger direct US involvement in the Syrian war.
Now, it appears that both Dempsey and the Obama administration are concerned about the Syrian war spreading into Jordan. In the past, the United States has used Jordan as a launching pad for CIA-trained rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But the rebellion in Syria is boomeranging, or “blowing back,” as these things usually do.
Following reports that Syrian rebels, especially the radical Islamists, are trying to spread the conflict into Jordan—particularly ironic, since Jordan is funneling weapons to the anti-Assad fighters—The New York Times reports that Dempsey is concerned over the threat to Jordan:
Syria has accused Jordan of acting as a transit point for weapons supplied to Syrian rebels, an accusation Jordan has denied. In recent days, the Jordanian authorities have detained suspected smugglers, including Syrians, accused of attempting to bring antitank missiles, surface-to-air missiles, assault rifles and other arms from Syria into Jordan—possibly part of an attempt by jihadists in Syria to foment unrest in Jordan as well.
Dempsey, whose earlier letter was released by Senator Carl Levin’s office, was outspoken during his trip to Israel and Jordan. Said Dempsey:
“I am very concerned about the radical element of the opposition, and I am concerned about the potential that extremist ideologies will hijack what started out to be a popular movement to overthrow an oppressive regime.…
“The issues that are fueling the conflict in Syria will not be resolved in the short term, even if the Assad regime were to fail tomorrow,” he said. “This is a regional conflict that stretches from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad.”[…] “It is the unleashing of historic ethnic, religious and tribal animosities that will take a great deal of work and a great deal of time to resolve.”
Dempsey didn’t repudiate the Obama administration’s support for the rebels, of course, and he did say that the United States must find ways to work with the “good” rebels while avoiding the “bad” ones. That task, however, is virtually impossible.
The best option, the US-Russian peace conference, isn’t clicking yet, and yesterday the Russians suggested that it wouldn’t happen before October. Assad, for his part, has indicated he’ll send representatives to the conference, but the badly split rebels—who’ve been set back on the battlefield of late—still haven’t committed to attend. That’s a major embarrassment for Secretary of State Kerry, who’s organizing the conference. And, the Russians would like Iran to attend, while the United States has ruled that out so far.
The Washington Post, which has been way, way behind The New York Times in reporting on the role of Al Qaeda and other radical Islamists in the battle against Assad, ran a piece today suggesting that it’s worse than it looks:
A rebranded version of Iraq’s al-Qaeda affiliate is surging onto the front lines of the war in neighboring Syria, expanding into territory seized by other rebel groups and carving out the kind of sanctuaries that the U.S. military spent more than a decade fighting to prevent in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And it added, worryingly:
A Lebanese security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media, estimated that at least 17,000 foreigners had joined rebel forces in Syria, most of them from Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, a figure in excess of the number that U.S. officials have given. Iraqis, too, are playing an important role, especially in the east, Syrians say, though their numbers are more difficult to measure because they traverse the long border virtually unchecked.
Dempsey understates the problem when, according to Reuters, he says that it’s a “challenge” for the CIA to figure out which rebel is which. He said:
“The real challenge for the intel community, frankly, is to understand when they’re collaborating just for a particular issue at a particular time and when they may actually be allied with each other,” he said. “And to this point, I think, we’re not exactly certain where that fine line of distinction might reside.”
Bob Dreyfuss on why Iran may be the key to a peace deal on Syria.