The Blog

Total Collapse

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
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

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.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office

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 appears to argue that our intelligence agencies are so inept they cannot identify terrorists and cannot find any way at all to get arms to Syrians — as opposed to Palestinians from Hamas or other foreigners from al-Qaeda…. Second, she suggests that precisely because Assad is using tanks and artillery to attack the population, we cannot aid them because our military assistance would be too limited. They are better off dying, this argument logically holds, than fighting back. Their bravery in fighting for the past year with such limited arms is to be rewarded with the complaint that the odds are just too heavily stacked against them. Then comes the coup de grace: After saying we won’t help, after saying that outside “intervention” would only lead to more violence or “civil war,” after noting the disparity of arms between the citizens and the state, she demands that they rise up.

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.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers