Throughout the summer we were fed news reports attributed to United States officials about how the CIA was organizing the delivery of weapons across the Turkey-Syria border.
Now along comes [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton a couple of days ago, griping about how radical elements had hijacked the Syrian revolution. Worse, she closed the book on Syrian National Council [SNC] by saying, “The SNC cannot anymore be considered as the leader of the opposition.”
Her crucial comment was: “There has to be a representation of those who are in the front lines fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom. This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but who, in many instances, have not been inside Syria for 20, 30, 40 years.”
From the beginning, we all knew that Syrian opposition groups in the diaspora did not influence events in the country and there were serious problems with their representation.
When the Istanbul meeting of the Friends of Syria declared on April 1 that the SNC was representative of the Syrian people, weren’t the Americans aware of this reality?
Recognition of the SNC by 129 countries — mainly under Turkish pressure — did not improve the SNC's representative capacity.
Could al-Qaeda linked elements, who grasped the initiative in the armed uprising, have made such a strong appearance on the Syrian front without the assistance or at least the tolerance of intelligence services such as the CIA? Wasn’t it the assistance of American allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar that nourished Salafist groups? So what led the US to disown the SNC and suddenly declare the “freedom fighters” as ‘’revolution hijackers”?
Perhaps the US decided to get more involved when none of the designs involving Turkey materialized. The US, in a way, showed Turkey that its play-maker role had its limits.
From the outset, the US has been cautious in its approach to the Syrian problem, waiting for the opposition to mature. In the April 1 meeting, Turkey wanted the SNC be to be recognized as the “sole representative of Syria” but its allies did not go beyond saying “the SNC is a representative of Syrian people.”
Some thought that the SNC that did not even include the Kurds — the worst affected community under Assad, could eventually overcome its representation problem. The US certainly tried hard to expand the representational scope of the Syrian opposition.
This was the sole mission of Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Damascus. But it didn’t work.
Moreover, critical reports of the Muslim Brotherhood taking the lead within the SNC with Turkey’s help began to appear in the western press. Turkish-sourced predictions of the rapid collapse of Bashar al-Assad’s regime turned out to be misguided.
A new organization emerging
The timing of Clinton’s demarche is significant. The opposition is to meet in Doha on Nov. 3-7 to discuss a new structure. The US is hoping to shape a new opposition umbrella in this meeting. According to an American official speaking to Foreign Policy magazine, Ford is pushing for a new 50-member council, to be made up of 15 representatives from the SNC, 15 from other opposition groups, and 20 from the opposition inside Syria.
A source close to the SNC yesterday told me that they have been having problems with the US since the collapse of efforts to reconcile with the Kurds in the July 4 Cairo meeting.
Breaking point of Kurds
This is what the SNC source told me: “There was a rough debate between the SNC and Ford in Cairo. The cause of the debate was the SNC’s insistence on a unitary structure for Syria without giving assurances of autonomy to the Kurds.
“The US then decided to try to directly reach civil society organizations inside Syria. It spent all of the $100 million allotted as assistance to the opposition for its intelligence operations. The SNC wants to be the spine of the new structure that will come out of Doha, while the US is trying to further diminish the SNC’s representative capacity,” the source said.
“The US is not ready for a regime change in Syria and wants to gain time. The US wants to come out with a new structure that could negotiate with Assad regime by keeping track of [United Nations] special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s efforts for a political solution.”
It is still uncertain what will emerge from the new process but one outcome is already known: The initiative is slipping away from Turkey, the country that tried so hard to organize both the civilian and military opposition to Qatar.