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With Opposition in Shambles, Grim Times Ahead for Syria

Protestors Rally Outside UN General Assembly

The Syrian opposition is an incoherent mess. News today from Ha’aretz is that the Free Syrian Army has rejected the political leadership’s choice of Ghassan Hitto as provisional Prime Minister. Details:

The Free Syrian Army leaders, fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, do not believe that Hitto, a U.S. citizen who spent most of his life in the U.S., is the right choice to lead the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces—the first government of the Syrian revolution.

Hitto, whose cabinet is supposed to govern rebel-held areas currently ruled by hundreds of brigades and emerging warlords, was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and coalition Secretary General Mustafa Sabbagh, who has strong links with Qatar.

This kind of squabbling points to the overwhelming likelihood that even when (and if!) Assad falls, Syria will be a long way from stability.

If the Bush Administration had fully understood that in Iraq, as in Syria, the Ba’athist state was a hard, hollow shell concealing a near-ungovernable polity, would it have invested so much in the attempt to build a democracy there? What we see in Iraq today, the bombs and the sectarian tension, could be a best-case scenario for Syria. And the continuing meltdown in Syria could easily drag Iraq back down into the levels of violence it experienced at the height of its Sunni-Shi’a war.

There are some very unpalatable choices ahead for the Obama administration in the Middle East. Nevertheless, given his long-stated intention to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, President Obama cannot choose to do nothing. Indeed, it looks like, in fits and starts, he is starting to get behind the rebels. As a New York Times report this morning shows, the CIA has been increasingly involved in coordinating arms shipments to Syrian rebels since last year. Note the political timing:

Most of the cargo flights have occurred since November, after the presidential election in the United States and as the Turkish and Arab governments grew more frustrated by the rebels’ slow progress against Mr. Assad’s well-equipped military. The flights also became more frequent as the humanitarian crisis inside Syria deepened in the winter and cascades of refugees crossed into neighboring countries. [emphasis ours]

Better late than never, we suppose. Given the positive results of President Obama’s latest trip to the Middle East, perhaps we’re seeing the administration finally giving this part of the world the attention it so desperately needs.

[A woman protests Assad outside the UN Headquarters on September 26, 2012. Getty Images.]

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