The Syrian opposition in exile received its latest boost of foreign support Thursday when the Obama administration announced its decision to allocate assistance directly to rebels fighting the Assad regime.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that a sum of $60 million would go to non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels, who will be screened to ensure that the “right people” receive the assistance, according to American officials.
One can expect that this type of assistance might even expand in the future, but Syrian opposition figures spent the day complaining that the help they were getting was insufficient.
They should have instead asked themselves what they have been doing to earn the trust and respect of the outside world. The leader of the National Coalition, Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, delivered an address at Rome meeting of the Friends of Syria, but aimed his rhetoric at Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Instead of shoring up their own ranks, the National Coalition has been slow to name a provisional government, as its officials engage in a lengthy process of consultations. The group has yet to advance a detailed plan for administering rebel-held areas, and both aspects – the coalition’s influence on the ground and its formal status as a government-in-exile – remain woefully vague.
Syrian opposition figures have become masters at telling the international community what it should and should not do, and this is their right. But they have a duty to become engaged in politics, not just speechmaking.
If they are serious about toppling the Assad regime, they should be serious about putting forward their detailed plan on what Syria after Assad will look like, and how exactly they intend to administer the country. There are many doubts about the National Coalition’s ability to oversee a smooth transition, and it is the job of opposition politicians to prove the skeptics wrong.
Opposition politicians are fully aware that many people – both inside and outside Syria – doubt their ability to be qualitatively different than the Assad regime.
At the present time, Syrian opposition figures are fond of praising the vision they have of a “diverse” Syria. But they should realize that during their drive to topple the Assad regime, the value of “unity” – as in a unified, cohesive opposition – is of critical importance.
They should realize that the United States and Western countries, and other friends of Syria, are not charity operations. Washington is not going to intervene decisively in the Syria crisis without taking into considerations the interests of Russia, whether the Syrian opposition likes this or not.
Syrian opposition figures should spend less time practicing their speech-making skills, and more time doing the hard work of politics. They need to come up with the difficult answers to critically important questions that remain unanswered, or else all of the assistance they crave will remain a mirage.