Samantha Power. (Wikimedia Commons)
Whether or not the Geneva conference on Syria, backed by both the United States and Russia, takes place—it’s now been pushed back from June to July—the Syrian rebels are not acquitting themselves well. They’ve now refused outright to attend, unless the United States and the Europeans supply them with heavy weapons, a kind of blackmail that won’t sit well with their backers in Washington and elsewhere. General Idris—the commander of the rebel forces, who just had a session with John McCain, who no doubt encouraged him in his anti-Geneva stance—is saying this:
“If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva. There will be no Geneva.”
McCain, of course, is incessantly demanding direct American involvement in the war.
Meanwhile, the government of President Bashar al-Assad is making important military gains on the ground while telling the Russians that they’ll attend Geneva.
In a perfect world, Secretary of State John Kerry would read the riot act to the rebel leaders, explaining not-so-patiently that there will be no military solution to the civil war in Syria. Kerry’s message ought to be that the United States will cut off the rebels if they don’t attend Geneva. Further, the United States must start putting intense pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the rebels’s main arms suppliers, to slow down the weapons pipeline, especially to the ultra-Islamists and the Al Qaeda types who are the rebels’s strongest fighters. And Kerry ought to make it clear to the world that Iran will be welcome in Geneva, since Tehran has great influence over the course of the war in Syria.
Meanwhile, Kerry will have to deal patiently, as well, with Susan Rice, the new US national security adviser to-be, and with Samantha Power, the yet-to-be-confirmed replacement for Rice at the United Nations, both of whom are likely to push for more American support for the beleaguered anti-Assad forces.
Perhaps realizing that the alliance between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, the so-called Nusra Front, had resulted in poor public relations for Al Qaeda, the organization’s top leader—Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as chieftain—has annulled the marriage of Nusra and AQI. According to Reuters: