The Magazine

Free Syria

Mar 5, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 24 • By LEE SMITH
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The next excuse is that Assad’s opponents are unsavory. U.S. officials, most recently chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, now claim that al Qaeda is part of the Syrian opposition. They say they have no evidence yet, but that certain attacks bear the hallmark of al Qaeda operations in Iraq and elsewhere. This is a deeply cynical argument. As American civilian and military officials should be well aware, Sunni fighters have been active in Syria for quite some time, long before Ayman al-Zawahiri called for al Qaeda to join the fight against Assad last month. It is the Assad regime itself that nurtured these organizations and found various uses for them at home, in Lebanon, and in Iraq. 

Under Assad the Damascus airport was a jihadist transport hub from which foreign fighters were either bused directly to the Iraqi border to fight U.S. troops, or warehoused in Syrian prisons until they could be put to some use. Washington knew very well that Syrian intelligence was working with al Qaeda because it had evidence of it in the Sinjar documents, showing that 90 percent of the foreign fighters in Iraq were coming through Syria. When a series of suicide bombings killed hundreds of Iraqis in the fall of 2009, the Obama administration hushed Iraqi officials who pointed a finger at Damascus. In other words, al Qaeda’s position in Syria was a problem U.S. officials were content to ignore when, with the help of Assad’s intelligence agents, the organization was killing American troops and Iraqis. But now the fact that al Qaeda elements, which may still be under the control of Syrian intelligence, are targeting regime installations, is a reason not to support the opposition.

The al Qaeda story, like the administration’s misreading of Russian intentions, petty complaints about a fractured opposition, and refusal to buttress the Free Syrian Army, allows the White House to act as a hapless spectator of a vicious civil war. It is a civil war, but it’s more than that: The regime in Damascus that has so much Syrian blood on its hands also, along with its allies in Iran and Hezbollah, has killed many thousands of Americans. In Lebanon, U.S. Marines, diplomats, and intelligence officials were slaughtered by Iranian and Syrian assets; in Iraq, the Syrians and Iranians backed both Sunni and Shia fighters in their war against American troops, leaving almost 5,000 dead and many more thousands wounded. Marie Colvin is just the most recent American casualty of the Assad family’s unchecked aggression. The administration has not only an interest but an obligation to fight back against the Iranian-Syrian assault on America—first, by bringing an end to the regime in Damascus.

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