By Barry Rubin
Five months ago, I wrote here and here detailing how the U.S. government collaborated in creating an anti-American, Islamist-dominated leadership for the Syrian revolution. This leadership group, assembled by the Islamist Turkish regime as the Obama government’s subcontractor, failed immediately. Now it is collapsing openly.
Of the nineteen announced members of the top leadership, I explained, ten of them were Islamists, either Muslim Brotherhood or Salafist. A reliable Syrian opposition source tells me that two more members are secretly Islamist tools. This was far in excess of the proportion of those forces in the revolution. In short, the U.S. government was helping to turn Syria’s revolution over to the Islamists. If this group had succeeded, the West would be facing still another radical Islamist regime that hated the West, wanted to go to war with Israel, and would be imposing a new dictatorship on its country.
But the Syrian National Council (SNC) has failed. The Islamist angle and the Obama Administration’s responsibility for this fiasco is being far underplayed in the Western media.
Several SNC members, including Kamal al-Labwani and Haitham Maleh, have announced their resignations. They are both elderly veteran dissidents who are not Islamists. The reason being given most often for this crack-up is that the group’s leadership is “autocratic,” excluding most of the membership from any role in decision-making. Leaving aside the element of personal ambition, however, why is it autocratic? Because it is imposing the Muslim Brotherhood line rather than responding to the preferences of the activists within Syria, that’s why.
As the New York Times admits, al-Labwani, “accused Muslim Brotherhood members within the exile opposition of `monopolizing funding and military support.’” Yet there is not a word about how the Obama Administration pushed this Brotherhood-dominated leadership onto the Syrian opposition.
Most of the Kurds involved in the original talks angrily walked out of the negotiations because of their objection to Islamist leadership. The Obama Administration’s choice of Turkey to coordinate this operation made it even harder to bring in Syrian Kurds, who play an important role in the revolution, since Turkey has fought a long war against Kurdish nationalism at home.
Another issue fomenting conflict is the SNC’s bad relationship with the Free Syrian Army and the SNC’s rejection of armed struggle to overthrow the dictatorship. Anti-Islamist oppositionists say that this is because the Islamists hope to make a deal with the regime that would give them more power now and, they hope, would bring them to power in the longer run.
Due to these various antagonisms, more than a half-dozen other opposition groups have developed as rivals to the SNC.
Dissidents have also pointed to this video which shows Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni claiming that the Brotherhood chose Birhan Ghalioun to be the SNC leader as a front man because he would be more appealing to the West than an open Islamist.
It is good that the SNC is falling apart. Here are the lessons:
–The Obama Administration collaborated in creating an anti-American leadership group. This is another example of the administration’s terrible policy and promotion of Islamists who oppose U.S. interests and who want to create a new dictatorship.
–The Turkish regime, Obama’s favorite Middle East government, betrayed U.S. interests (and those of the Syrian people) in assembling a group dominated by its fellow Islamists who hate the United States and would link up with other radical regimes in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, and Tunisia. This shows that the Turkish regime cannot be trusted.
–The Syrian opposition should be helped to form a truly representative, moderate-dominated, pro-democratic opposition which should then receive Western support.
–Western countries should support that opposition with weapons and also impose a safe haven and a no-fly zone for the Syrian regime.
I do not expect that the Obama Administration or other Western governments will do any of these things to happen but they are precisely what should be done.
And if you want to read a more detailed account of how U.S. policy toward Syria is a mess, watching while thousands of civilians are being killed, selling out the rebels, and missing a tremendous opportunity, read this article by the always superb Tony Badran.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.