Syrian civil war; not shutdown

The government may be shutdown, but the show must go on. Photo: Syrian Rebel Fighters (AP)

WASHINGTON October 14, 2013 — While the Federal government enjoys Columbus day and enters day 14 in the shutdown, developments in Syria remind the country that defaulting on our debt or failing to pass a budget are not the only problems we face as a nation.

In September President Obama waived a Federal statute that would allow him to arm organizations which the United States defined as “terrorists.” This was done in an effort to build legal support for his support of the Syrian Opposition forces, many of whom are reported to be members of radical Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda. While the United States attempts to address their problems at home, the Syrian Opposition forces seem to be confronting their own issues as well.


SEE RELATED: The dangers in limited involvement in Syria


At first it was called “The Big Tent” strategy, calling on the axiom that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. However it seems now as though there are those who want that Tent to be governed by Sharia law, and there are those who simply want Assad replaced, turning he Big Tent into a circus instead of a revival.

Over the weekend , dozens of Opposition fighters were killed when infighting broke out between rebel groups in Aleppo, Syria. This was just another in a string of events going back a few weeks into the end of September when members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) clashed with members of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) over control of a town along the Syrian-Turkish border. The FSA has championed the Big Tent strategy from the beginning, and has been reported by Al-Jazeera to have made attempts at bringing all Islamic radical groups under one banner, but obviously that has not happened yet.

The fighting in Syria has been particularly brutal during its 30 plus month duration. Reports of the Syrian Army launching chemical warheads on their own civilians and reports of Syrian rebels executing bus-loads of tourists are not only unheard of, they are commonplace. The United States and some of her allies have decided to back the Syrian Opposition forces, while Russia and Iran have chosen to support to some extent the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

President Obama has tried very hard to make it seem as though President Assad is the perennial dictator, and that the death of over one hundred thousand Syrians falls squarely at his feet. He is trying very hard to make it seem as though the Opposition forces are simply the manifestation of the people of Syria’s desire to be free and govern themselves.

However it is not that simple.

President Assad is obviously a dictator, but his leadership has kept his nation stable in a volatile region. The Opposition forces are the rebels, and Americans are quick to support the rebels out of some far flung sense of camaraderie and sympathy, which the President has tried to exploit. But the rebels execute Christians, kill bus-loads of tourists, and there are those among them who want to establish Syria as an Islamic state under Sharia law. This is not clear cut, there is no good guy and bad guy, just one side or the other.

This in-fighting amongst the rebels however may be the symptom of a dynamic shift among the Opposition forces.

Two quick explanations for most recent in-fighting incidents come to mind.

First; the people of the United States and the West have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that we are sending lethal aid to groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra. These groups are “linked” to al-Qaeda which is basically a polite way of saying they are a front. Al-Qaeda is pulling the strings, and ISIS and al-Nusra are his little puppet playthings. They get money from al-Qaeda so when Ayman al-Zawahiri says jump they say how high. Realizing this, the secular or non-Islamist state Opposition forces such as the Free Syrian Army or Ahfad al-Rasul may be attempting to weed out radical Islamist factions from the rebels. The more they appear to be unwilling to partner with radicals the less of a threat a government controlled by them appears to be, and perhaps the more they appear to fight radical Islamists the more help they will receive from the West or other sympathetic nations.

Second; the secular rebels are weak. The radical elements within the Opposition forces could be using the chaos and exploiting that weakness in order to wrest control of the war away from those who would not be committed to an Islamic state. If groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra succeed in absorbing these groups or succeed in taking key leadership positions, then the conflict could stratify into a clear cut case of the secular government of Bashar al-Assad, and the proposed radical Islamic state of Syria propagated by a radical controlled Opposition movement. Then the United States would find themselves arguing to the World that the radical Islamic rebels supported by al-Qaeda, our mortal enemy, warranted support and possibly military assistance. This would be best case for the Islamists, and the worst case scenario before hard conflict for the US and her allies.

While factions United States federal government jockey for position and attempt political games, radical Islam makes quiet tactical and territorial gains in Syria. The United States needs to address the fact that they have gone out of their way to arm terrorists, and that those terrorists are killing innocent civilians in a country on the other side of the World. If we do not address the problem of radical Islamic factions within the Syrian Opposition forces, and we keep openly support al-Qaeda linked groups, the United States will find itself making a case to the World for military intervention in Syria on behalf of the same people who twelve years prior killed thousands of Americans in one day, and thousands more since. The more we wait to address this problem, the worse it will be when it comes time to act.


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Conor Higgins

Conor Higgins has a B.A. from Catholic University in DC in American History, with a concentration on guerrilla warfare on American soil. He has an M.A. in US History from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, with a concentration on Cold War insurgency. He believes that all news and all information should be taken with a grain of salt, and implores people everywhere to seek news stories everywhere. 

Higgins is also a fervent believer in the traditional role of media, in terms of acting as a balanced check on government policies and individuals regardless of party affiliation. But in the end, he believes that no matter how heated an issue is, there is nothing that can't be discussed over a smoke and some whiskey. 

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