I had the opportunity to meet Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, this past week. I was invited for my efforts promoting Arab Studies in the city of Houston. The meeting was also attended by a number of Syrian, Arab and American professionals, including some members of the so called “Syrian Opposition.” I have no intention of recounting all the political issues discussed at the meeting. I want rather to share just a couple of points mentioned, which are of great importance but none of which are confidential.
What struck me was the consensus that the Syrian Opposition has a “major terrorist problem,” and—furthermore—is alarmed that terrorist activity is beginning to take over the movement. I was also struck by just how incoherent the Syrian Opposition remains. In this vein, no one disputes that the opposition has “completely failed” to put forth a unified, political agenda, and—furthermore—that the US needs to have a better idea who to talk to. I learned just how utterly dependent and the Syrian Opposition is on American help, and their desperation for some sort of US military intervention—despite the fact that the US has not limited itself to humanitarian aide for now. (It is not for no reason that the previous two presidents of the SNC–Muaz al-Khatib and Burhan Ghalioun–walked away)
There is ample evidence that terrorist groups are gaining the upper hand within the Syrian opposition fighting on the ground: the assassination of Muhammad al-Bouti, disputed reports of chemical weapons, village massacres, and bombing government or public building irrespective of the civilian cost. Any sober minded individual can see the marks of terrorism on the ground. But such is war—a regime and its opposition terrorizing the civilian population.
I say this to draw attention to the hysteria shared by much of the Syrian expatriate community, who go to pains to illustrate the Syrian Opposition as anything more than an incoherent, incompetent and at increasing illegitimate organization, unable to control the tide of terrorism taking over its ranks on the ground. I am talking about expats who would rather believe in conspiracies than accept that terrorism is now part and parcel of the opposition they support. The sectarian fighting in Syria today is on average more bloody that the Lebanese civil war in the 1980’s or Iraqi civil war in 2006.
This hysteria has now spread to the entire discourse on the Syrian civil war. International interests escalate the violence on the one hand and yet bewail an unprecedented humanitarian crisis on the other. Instead of any intelligent debate on which governments to lobby at once, intelligent people–proponents and opponents of the regime–squabble using nauseating jihadi lingo, eg. talking about “our martyrs,” “their dead,” and playing judge to their “sins” or “virtues.” The current nonsensical discourse privliges toppling Assad at the expense annihilating Syria altogether. Somewhere in the hysteria of opposing his regime and giving the people the right to rule themselves, the Syrian people were robbed of heir most basic right—to live.