Pursuing negotiations with Assad’s regime has already led to the reintegration of the religious and militant al-Nusra into the opposition front.
The opportunity to negotiate with Bashir al-Assad of Syria presented itself as we were on the verge of launching air attacks against his Syrian regime in support of the Opposition Forces. It must have seemed like an answer to the prayer of many to “give peace a chance.” On the surface these negotiations were about the use of chemical weapons against the opposition. But it is the hope of many is that they will lead to Assad’s departure, hence meeting the stated objective of all opposition parties. Even though we retain the option to put pressure diplomatically and even militarily, once again, if our requirements are not met, there are hidden costs in pursuing negotiations. One such cost has been the reintegration of Islamic extremist groups into the opposition alliance that we have supported. This includes the Al-Queda connected militant religious Al Nusra Front, whom we have labeled a “Terrorist” group.
Among the most serious challenges in dealing with the wave of uprisings throughout the Arab world, more popularly known as “The Arab Spring,” has been to determine which of many factions would emerge in power. Concomitantly, we have to assess whether they will follow policies that are within our range of acceptability. Libya and Egypt stand out as examples of how daunting this kind of calculation can be. Indeed, as a result of those two experiences, the U.S. has worked hard to isolate the militant Islamic factions that make up the Al Nusra Front from the secular groups fighting to overthrow Bashir Al-Assad’s Baath Party Rule.
There is an irony here in that the militant Sunni Islamic Al-Nusra Front is fighting against Assad’s regime in order to establish a Pan-Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. Shia Hezbollah at Shia Iran’s urging, has been fighting on behalf of Al-Assad for the same objectives as Al-Nusra- only, of course, a Shia Islamic State instead of a Sunni one. Such is the nature of Islamic and Arab in-fighting, that a militant Islamic group could support the very secular Baath Party. And Bashir Assad is every bit as secular as his father Hafez al-Assad was. Nor are the other Islamic countries in agreement, Turkey and Qatar have given support to Al Nusra, while Iran supports Al-Assad’s government as well as Hezbollah. There also are sectarian, tribal and ethnic divisions involved on both sides of the Syrian Civil War. In short it’s a mess, but a mess that we have to deal with.
To get an idea of what is involved, in 2011, The Syrian National Council emerged with a sixty-four member body representing each their own factions or, as in the case of the Kurdish and Turkmen, sub-factions. In late Fall of 2012, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition forces was formed, with the blessings of the Arab League and the Persian Gulf oriented CCASG. Their membership list already has been eroded by numerous defections.
In light of these divisions, organizational discipline becomes paramount in determining the outcome of the struggle for power in early post-revolutionary days. Outside of regional loyalties the most organized of Arab factions,.apart from the military, are likely to be the religious ones. Indeed, Al Nusra’s fighters are generally considered to be the most disciplined, and their participation in the Battle for Aleppo was paramount. Therefore, a situation like Egypt faced in their first post-Mubarak election is a very real possibility, because of Al Nusra’s disciplined membership and support.
Consequently, “leaving at the altar” opposition forces, sans Al Nusra, in order to pursue the negotiations path with Assad has already led to consequences. As many Middle-Eastern observers worried, recent weeks have seen the reintegration of a goodly portion of the Al Nusra front into the Opposition Front. The short term gains from negotiations, which may prove illusory, quite possibly will be overshadowed by longer term consequences that may well prove inimical to both peace in the Middle-east and our own and our allies’ interests. Decision-makers in the U.S. would do well to consider those possibilities.
Martin, The Pragmatic Liberal-writing on pragmaticliberalism.com