This week’s announcement by 13 Syrian rebel groups that they support the establishment of an Islamic state is being touted in some quarters as the latest in a long list of disappointments when it comes to Western, and particularly American, policy on the Syria crisis.
Around a month ago, Washington sprang into action in the wake of a chemical weapons attack near Damascus, issuing ultimatums and finally obtaining pledges from both Russia and Syria that the chemical weapons held by the Assad regime would be addressed in serious fashion.
However, ever since the events of late August, the Syria crisis has generated a series of challenges for the international community and the United States.
The rebels launched an attack against the Christian village of Maaloula, which has little importance in military terms but tremendous significance when it comes to how the rebels and the opposition can generate support for their cause.
Then, in the north and east of the country, a series of battles erupted between hard-line Islamists and mainstream rebel groups. Moreover, hard-line Islamists have targeted pro-opposition activists with a campaign of arrests and worse, in a sign of the growing influence on the ground enjoyed by the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
This was crowned by the announcement by rebel factions that they rejected the leadership of the National Coalition and backed the establishment of an Islamic state, dashing the hopes of many people who have supported the rebel cause over the last two and a half years.
The lack of leadership by Washington on the Syria crisis is now leading to disasters such as the rebel announcement, due to the White House’s focus on the chemical weapons held by the Syrian regime. What is taking place in Syria is certainly complex, but not something beyond the realm of human comprehension.
The humanitarian crisis in Syria is reaching staggering proportions, and the world’s most influential country must act immediately to alleviate the situation, with no excuses.
The political crisis of the opposition is reaching alarming levels, due to an inability to solve the Kurdish conundrum, and an inability or unwillingness to support mainstream rebel groups against their hard-line rivals.
The threat of hard-line extremists has been there all along but Washington appears content to see their influence rise, as disappointment and anger grow in the ranks of the mainstream groups that receive only crumbs in terms of support and assistance from the supposed backers of the opposition.
If U.S. policy on Syria is reduced to an obsession with weapons of mass destruction, it will be replaying the disaster of Iraq, under different circumstances, but with a similar, disturbing result. And if policymakers in Washington can’t figure out how to direct meaningful help to the groups that need it the most, they should step aside and let someone else lead on Syria.