mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
US Syria Policy Helping Assad and Al-Qaeda, Hurting Rebels


The WaPo reports that the al-Qaeda linked group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant emerged victorious yesterday from a firefight with a “more moderate” rebel group, the Northern Storm Brigade (part of the Free Syran Army). The al-Qaeda group has come into control of the northern border town of Azaz, which the FSA seized from Assad’s forces last year:

The fall of the town has the potential to disrupt rebel supply lines. The crossing itself, one of the few between Syria and Turkey that are still functional, remained in the hands of the more moderate Free Syrian Army on Wednesday night, despite reports that Islamic State was mounting an offensive to take it. […]

“There is a huge expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” said Col. Malik al-Kurdi, a senior commander in the Free Syrian Army, who said the extremists had also recently seized the town of Kafarnaje. With Islamic State well-financed and armed, “the FSA power is in reversal,” he said.

The WaPo can’t help but notice the timing of the jihadists’ assault. Here’s the money quote:

Islamic State’s offensive comes after a lull in activity for the group as it lay low, fearing that it could be targeted in U.S. airstrikes.

The biggest winner in fights between rival anti-Assad groups is, of course, Assad. America’s reluctance to aid the moderate rebels and enthusiasm for the Russian chemical weapons deal have both contributed to Assad’s position of power. Had President Obama never demanded that Assad “must go”, the world might simply have concluded that the White House, rightly or wrongly, decided on a pro-Assad policy. That the President repeatedly demanded Assad’s ouster, then made decisions that helped keep him in power, makes the White House look confused and ham-handed, not cunning and resolute.

The fight between al-Qaeda linked rebels and “moderate” ones is yet another example of the costs of a Syria policy of dithering and half measures. More aid to the anti-al-Qaeda rebels might have shortened the war and avoided this disastrous development. The fact of the matter is that the United States and its allies cannot allow al-Qaeda a secure base in the heart of the Middle East. If the rebels and the government can’t prevent this from happening, then ultimately we will have to do something ourselves.

Failing to act sometimes traps you into more dramatic and expensive actions down the road.

[Photo courtesy Getty Images.]

Features Icon
show comments
  • bpuharic

    I’m not sure whether WRM is serious, or is working a parody of the right wing position in his assertion that ANYTHING we can do here, short of boots on the ground, would have an effect.

    We spent 10 years and 2 trillion in Iraq. Al Qaida is still there and Iraq is not a democracy

    So pray tell me, good professor, what magic wand could the president wave that would do in Syria what right wingers failed to do in Iraq?

    Care to comment?


  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    And now we hear that Assad is demanding $1 Billion for his chemical weapons. Obama was an idiot for ever getting involved. A strategy of “Divide and Conquer” would have served American interests far better (it’s not too late). As long as the Islamic cultures are focused on killing each other, they will not have the resources to attack the west.

    As far as Via Meadia’s concern with stability, I say stability is over-rated. A simple historical review will show that the middle-east has been in a constant state of war for many decades.

    This constant state of war, also calls into question Via Meadia’s concern, with Islamists getting combat training in the Syrian civil war. Why have none of the other dozens of conflicts created these powerful Islamist veterans, Via Meadia fears so?

    • bpuharic

      Let’s see…Muslims were killing each other before 9/11. Guess they didn’t have the capability to hit us, then, did they?

      Reading right wing vitriol about Obama is like watching 40 clowns get out of a Volkswagen. The right has destroyed our credibility around the world with its ‘Mission Accomplished” bravado but insists THEY know what will m ake successful policy.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service