The administration’s Syria policy represents a total collapse of the declared U.S. position that Assad has lost legitimacy and should leave power.
5:10 PM, Mar 1, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
A number of recent articles make the case that the administration’s Syria policy is incoherent. Elliott Abrams says it’s worse than that: The White House’s position on Syria is duplicitous. Abrams looks at a series of recent interviews Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given to the press about Syria, and identifies what appear to be the administration’s three reasons for not supporting the Syrian opposition.
First is the administration’s concern that, according to Clinton, al Qaeda may have infiltrated the opposition. Second, she contends that arming the opposition is futile because given the regime’s firepower there is no way the opposition can win. Finally, she says that the uprising is limited in scope, and more Syrians need to take to the streets before the White House knows the uprising is serious.
“This is an amazing policy combination,” writes Abrams.
Clinton’s statements aren’t just contradictory, they’re also just plain wrong. Let’s look at the three points that Abrams underscores in some more detail.
1. Al Qaeda and the opposition
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was the first administration official to claim that al Qaeda may have infiltrated the opposition. Since then, in Clinton’s interviews and elsewhere, it’s become one of the administration’s talking points on Syria. But is it true?
Yes, al Qaeda affiliates are on the ground in Syria—thanks largely to the efforts of the Damascus regime itself. The Assads, father and son, have long been in the habit of using terrorist organizations (from Hezbollah and Hamas to the PKK, including al Qaeda affiliates) to serve their interests, at home and in the near abroad, especially Lebanon and Iraq.
Even now a Free Syrian Army official recently confirmed to Now Lebanon: “‘news of the release of Fatah al-Islam and Al-Qaeda members from jail by the regime, which seems willing to take any risk to stay in power,’ by letting known terrorists onto the streets to stir up trouble so it can blame the conflict on radical elements.” Most notable among these recently released al Qaeda prisoners is Abu Musab al-Suri, the mastermind of the 7/7 attacks on London. Captured by the CIA in 2005 and returned to his native Syria, Suri was freed, according to a press report, “as a warning to the US and Britain about the consequences of turning their backs on President al-Assad’s regime.”
It is the Syrian regime’s use of terror—specifically, the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri—that compelled the Bush administration to withdraw the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. And it was the regime’s logistical support of al Qaeda and other foreign fighters making their way into Iraq to kill Americans that persuaded Bush policymakers to continue to isolate Damascus. It was the Obama administration that decided to embark on a policy of engagement with Syria, despite the evidence showing Assad’s support for terror, including al Qaeda.