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Seeing Syria Clearly

Does the administration finally know who the good guys are in Syria?

3:00 PM, Jun 15, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
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U.S. intelligence analysts believe that there may be no “suitable recipients of lethal aid” in the opposition, but more than a year into the uprising, not knowing who the good guys are is no longer a matter of faulty intelligence gathering. Rather, it’s a policy decision disguised as doubt. If Obama wanted to back someone in Syria in order to advance American interests, the U.S. intelligence community would have little trouble finding suitable recipients. It hasn’t because the White House isn’t eager to act. The question is, will moral revulsion at Assad's crimes finally force it off the sidelines?

It’s understandable why a conflict that by some estimates has already cost the lives of more than 14,000 would elicit powerful humanitarian concerns. The Obama administration professes to share those concerns, but perversely concludes that it should therefore avoid arming the opposition, because that would only result in more violence. This is of course true in the short term, but from a strategic as well as a moral perspective what should matter is whether the violence would have the effect of bringing down Assad. In the name of "stopping the violence," the administration threw its weight behind a U.N. ceasefire that was unworkable at first glance, thereby actually guaranteeing that the killing would continue. The ultimate way to stop violence in Syria is to overthrow the regime that foments it.

So in this case, a little grand strategy and attention to U.S interests in the region would actually bring greater moral depth to U.S. policy. We know who the “good guys” (relatively speaking) are. We are allied with Sunni states throughout the region against the Islamic Republic of Iran; by extension the Syrian Sunnis who are taking on Assad, an ally of Iran, are our allies. As Badran explains, a shallow moralism, focused on "violence" has clouded American decision-making and made our policy vulnerable to pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian propaganda (i.e., that Assad's enemies are also violent).

A recent report from a German newspaper contends that it was the opposition, rather than Assad’s forces, that was responsible for the massacre at Houla. On this reading, it wasn’t Sunnis who were killed en masse, but Alawites and other minorities.

The facts are otherwise. As this list of casualties from the Houla killings shows, the dead were Sunnis, with the majority of them coming from one family, Abd el-Razzaq.

An article yesterday at National Review Online helps set the record straight, explaining how the German report is part of a larger information campaign on behalf of the regime, engineered in part by Syria’s Christian community with a very ugly assist by the Vatican’s news agency.

The purpose of this propaganda is obvious. If the White House can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, here’s information to confuse them further: The really vicious murderers aren’t from the regime but the opposition. It’s worth noting that this particular information operation, claiming that Sunni radicals in the opposition are targeting minorities, comports perfectly with many of the concerns put forth by an administration that says it can’t tell the good guys from the bad.

Most significantly, the White House has been very public about its fear that the opposition may now be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and that backing the opposition might empower Sunni radicals, including elements of al Qaeda. Subsequently, there’s worry that the Sunnis will target the Christian community and take their vengeance against the Alawites, from whom the ruling Assad regime is drawn. The idea then, now corroborated by this Syrian disinformation campaign, is that the opposition is made up of very bad people. Hence, the White House is confused.

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