Saturday, January 28

With the FSA rout in Idlib, is the "Moderate Syrian Rebel" myth finally dead?

I have to interrupt the author of the following article fairly early because he clearly needs a history lesson about the Free Syrian Army, but to begin:

Death of the Syrian ‘Moderate’ Fantasy
By Jonathan Marshall
January 26, 2017
Consortium News
The neoconservative and liberal interventionist case for arming Syria’s rebels lost its last vestige of credibility this week with the routing of Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in northwestern Syria.
In her memoir Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recounted her hope that “if the United States could train and equip a reliable and effective moderate rebel force, it could help hold the country together during a transition . . . and prevent ethnic cleansing and score settling.”
In much the same way, the Reagan administration hoped — and failed — to cultivate “moderate elements” in Iran’s army through its covert arms deals with Tehran in the mid-1980s.
The truth of the matter — exposed again this week — is that the FSA and other “moderates” never had the popular support or the grit to take on more fanatical warriors in Syria.
On Tuesday, the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate that rebranded itself last year as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), attacked the FSA in Idlib and Aleppo provinces with heavy artillery, suicide bombs, and even cyber attacks. Within a day, they largely succeeded in wiping out local FSA forces.
JFS explained that it was punishing the FSA for “trying to divert the course of the revolution towards reconciliation with the criminal regime” of President Bashar al-Assad. The FSA recently joined other non-extremist rebel groups in Kazakhstan for inconclusive talks with the Syrian government.
If Washington had provided the FSA with portable anti-aircraft missiles, as advocated by influential interventionists like Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, those dangerous weapons would now be in the hands of one of the most extreme and lethal factions fighting in Syria with the possibility that they could be used for terrorist purposes such as shooting down civilian airliners.
Similar debacles, complete with weapons transfers to extremists, have taken place many times over the past few years. In September 2013, FSA forces in the northern city of Raqqa surrendered abjectly to Islamists, despite outnumbering them.
One top rebel commander said, “There is no such thing as the FSA [here]. We are all Al Qaeda now. Half of the FSA has been devoured by ISIS, and the other half joined Jabhat al-Nusra.”
Collaborating with Al Qaeda
Many FSA commanders learned their lesson and began to collaborate with Nusra Front, essentially fighting under Al Qaeda’s command. Those that steadfastly remained “moderate” paid a heavy price.
Here I interrupt Mr Marshall, who is clearly unaware of the origins of the Free Syrian Army. To review:
On the 29th of July 2011, France created the Free Syrian Army (the « moderates »). Contrary to the official communiqué concerning its commander, Colonel Riyad el-Asaad, the first elements engaged were not Syrians, but Libyan members of al-Qaïda.
Riyad el-Asaad is no more than a cover, supposed to give the affair a Syrian veneer. He was chosen because he bears a similar name to President Bachar el-Assad, to whom he is in no way related. However, ignorant of the fact that the two names are not written the same way in Arabic, the Atlantist Press chose to see in him a sign of the « first defector from the régime ».
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is supervised by French legionnaires, detached from their services and placed at the disposition of the Élysée and General Benoît Puga, President Sarkozy’s own private chief commander. The FSA now fights under the French colonial flag.
Currently, the FSA is no longer a permanent army. But its trade name is used from time to time for operations dreamed up by the Élysée and carried out by mercenaries from other armed groups.
France persists in making a distinction between « moderate » and « extremist » jihadists. Yet there is no difference in terms of personnel or behaviour between the two groups. It was the FSA who began executing homosexuals by throwing them from the roofs of buildings. It was also the FSA who broadcast a video of one of their cannibal leaders eating the heart and liver of a Syrian soldier.
The only difference between the moderates and the extremists is their flag – either the French colonial flag or that of the jihad.
From Why does France want to overthrow the Syrian Arab Republic?; 12 October 2015, Voltaire Network.

Has the French government changed its tune?  The answer could work out to how high the Saudis are telling the French to jump today. 

My only other dispute with Mr Marshall's article is where he quotes Joshua Landis in his eagerness to pound home his points: 
Joshua Landis, the respected Syria expert and head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, goes further and argues that trying to buy moderate allies with money and arms was doomed from the start.
As Landis told an interviewer recently, “Many activists and Washington think tankers argue that the reason the radicals won in Syria is because they were better funded than moderate militia . . . No evidence supports this. Radicals . . . fought better, had better strategic vision and were more popular. The notion that had Washington pumped billions of dollars to selected moderate militias, they would’ve killed the extremists and destroyed Assad’s regime, is bunkum.”
Yes that is bunkum, but before Mr Landis talks about "popularity" and "strategic vision" he needs to list out the number of nations that invaded Syria using proxy armies, and how many of them were providing the strategic vision and military tactics for those armies. 

The "moderates" fell apart every time foreign paymasters dropped them in favor of other mercenaries, that's all.

After giving additional examples of  Washington's idiocy in arming "moderates," Jonathan Marshall concludes on a grim note:
Bunkum it may be, but mainstream pundits continue to demand that Washington support anti-Assad forces in Syria — whether in the name of saving lives, fighting tyranny, or making life uncomfortable for the Russians. We can only hope that President Trump ignores them and confines his wars to Twitter.
So we're not out of the woods yet, and neither are the Syrians, even if the myth of the "Moderate Syrian Rebel" has taken (another) beating in Idlib.  

I've never read any of Jonathan Marshall's other articles but from the Consortium website here's a listing of some of his recent articles on arms issues: “How World War III Could Start,” “NATO’s Provocative Anti-Russian Moves,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” “Ticking Closer to Midnight,” and “Turkey’s Nukes: A Sum of All Fears.”


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