The Sunnis vs Assad
The Wages of Leading from Behind

Turkey’s foreign minister has announced that the United States had agreed to “in principle” provide joint air support to some mainstream opposition forces in their fight against Bashar al-Assad’s government. Though anonymous Obama administration officials said that a final decision had not yet been made, that such escalation is being contemplated probably reflects Washington’s belief that Assad’s days are numbered and a desire to be seen as part of a coalition that ultimately brings him down.

Over the weekend, details emerged as to how the increased cooperation between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC appeared to be turning the tide on the ground against Assad’s beleaguered troops—something we here at The American Interest have been covering since rumors of such a regional pact first began to leak. Assad’s core demographics seem to be bled white. The moment for his toppling may well be at hand.

But what could four years ago—or even one year ago—been a U.S. triumph now may be a much darker prospect indeed (if still better than the alternative). In order to make their pact work, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have decided to back al Qaeda’s powerful local franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra; furthermore, in forming the alliance, they pointedly declared that any adverse U.S. opinion to what Ankara and Riyadh were doing “would not have bothered us.”

Both the Turks and Saudis, resentful of past U.S. inaction on toppling Assad, which each sees as a major priority, will likely to continue to think this way when or if the time comes to make decisions about a post-Assad Syria. And so the United States will wind up not shaping events from the front, nor even leading from behind, but may well wind up running after the bandwagon yelling, “wait for me!”

We had better hope that somewhere in the West Wing, people are working on strategies that go beyond “sign the Iran deal and everything else will fall into place.”

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