The National Coalition needs to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor, the Syrian National Council. It needs to learn that getting recognition, both domestic and international, is hinged on its ability to be efficient in its management of relations with rebel groups, in-country activists and refugees. Its leaders should arrange visits to refugee camps soon, as well as meetings with top defectors, rebels and activists. They should also realize that a government of technocrats should put skill and experience over political ideology and communal background.
President Obama’s recent remarks on Syria divulge a more proactive approach towards managing the ongoing conflict there than previously exhibited. Still, the President obviously maintains the same reluctance towards military intervention, even in the form of providing greater support to the opposition beyond nonlethal and humanitarian aid. Still, the statements mark a step in the right direction. The newly formed National Coalition can improve its chances of making this new policy even more open by proceeding with the formation of a technocratic leaning transitional government and an effective military council, as well as by providing a more inclusive vision for Syria’s future.
Meanwhile, and while the political processes continue to unfold, developments on the ground are still very much influx. Rebels looked set to liberate the north just a few days ago, but today, they have suffered several reversals, with the town of Khan Shaikhoon falling back to the regime and a major segment of the city of Idlib. The battle and the war are not over yet. Nothing can be taking for granted. The regime continues to receive regular shipment of weapons and supplies from Russia and Iran, but support to rebels’ continues to be spotty and irregular, which is not conducive to a situation where momentum can be maintained.
The President’s Remarks:
Q. Mr. President, the Assad regime is engaged in a brutal crackdown on its people. France has recognized the opposition coalition. What would it take for the United States to do the same? And is there any point at which the United States would consider arming the rebels?
THE PRESIDENT: I was one of the first leaders I think around the world to say Assad had to go, in response to the incredible brutality that his government displayed in the face of what were initially peaceful protests.
Obviously, the situation in Syria has deteriorated since then. We have been extensively engaged with the international community as well as regional powers to help the opposition. We have committed to hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to help folks both inside of Syria and outside of Syria. We are constantly consulting with the opposition on how they can get organized so that they’re not splintered and divided in the face of the onslaught from the Assad regime.
We are in very close contact with countries like Turkey and Jordan that immediately border Syria and have an impact -- and obviously Israel, which is having already grave concerns, as we do, about, for example, movements of chemical weapons that might occur in such a chaotic atmosphere and that could have an impact not just within Syria, but on the region as a whole.
I’m encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they’ve had in the past. We’re going to be talking to them. My envoys are going to be traveling to various meetings that are going to be taking place with the international community and the opposition.
We consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people. We’re not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile, but we do think that it is a broad-based representative group. One of the questions that we’re going to continue to press is making sure that that opposition is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.
We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition, and one of the things that we have to be on guard about -- particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures -- is that we’re not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm, or do Israelis harm, or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security.
So we're constantly probing and working on that issue. The more engaged we are, the more we'll be in a position to make sure that we are encouraging the most moderate, thoughtful elements of the opposition that are committed to inclusion, observance of human rights, and working cooperatively with us over the long term.
My take on Obama’s position can be found here:
On Wednesday, Obama gave no sign though that despite his re-election there would be any major shift yet in his Syria policy.
"The US has been virtually missing in action on Syria so far, but their recent moves, including the push for the formation of the coalition, indicates that they might be ready to adopt a more proactive attitude," said pro-democracy Syrian activist, Ammar Abdulhamid, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
"The heavy lifting, though, including arming rebels and perhaps pushing for a de facto no-fly zone, might still be left to other countries at this stage," he told AFP.
US analysts said questions remained over the new coalition, highlighting for example that a Kurdish body had still not joined.
The opposition now needs to work on setting up a transitional government and some form of military council, they said.
"What the United States is looking for... is one military organization where all military aid can be channeled, that in turn can be relied upon to distribute the money among fighting groups inside the country, leaving out the jihadi groups," said Marina Ottaway, senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"This is a very admirable plan. I'm not sure that it can work," she told AFP, adding: "The idea that somehow by centralizing the distribution of money the jihadi groups will be cut off, I don't think it's realistic."
Abdulhamid agreed that before the international community could start arming the rebels a "mechanism for vetting groups and delivery channels need to be agreed."
Max Boot has a more nuanced take in Commentary Magazine:
President Obama and the U.S. continue to lag behind in trying to influence events in another important country, in spite of the major role played by American diplomats in helping to organize the Syrian National Coalition. That is a major problem, because there is only so much France—or other states such as Qatar and Turkey, which are eager to topple Bashar Assad—can do.
Only the U.S. can organize a coalition to impose a no-fly zone and thus hasten the end of the barbarous Assad regime. If we fail to act, the humanitarian and strategic costs of the war will continue to grow—as witness recent incidents of Syrian forces directing fire near to, and sometimes over, the borders with Israel and Turkey.
Writing in The Christian Science Monitor, Bilal Saab, executive director and head of research and public affairs of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), argues that
Obama’s policy of 'staying the course' in Syria should be weighed against worsening strategic realities in the country and region. Only a careful military program to help the rebels, including arming and training them, can stem the growing costs of US inaction.
For his part, Thomas Friedman advocates a policy of convincing Russia to “fall on the grenade” and “midwife a transition process in Syria. But that would be the equivalent of flipping Russia from herself, which is even more out there than the idea of flipping Syria from Iran by engaging Iran. Putin & Co. are more likely to midwife a process that will take us back to Assad’s bosom, than away from Assad’s rule. The truth is Syrians don’t need anyone to fall on his sword or grenade for them. Rebels simply need support, and midwifing a transition process can still happen from a safe distance, for now. Further delays will definitely change this calculus, and we could indeed face a “Kosovo Situation,” or worse, a regional meltdown brought about by an imploding/exploding Syria, as Friedman himself has argued.
Rebels in Aleppo City showcase advanced missiles they claim to have recently confiscated from troops loyal to Assad, saying that they have been asking for these missiles for a long time, but no one in the international community was willing to provide with this type of weapons. Finally, Allah stepped in to fill the gap http://youtu.be/JRe4wfNE0Fs
A new massacre in Diyabiyeh http://youtu.be/71Om1Y8xSTQ , http://youtu.be/vInd0voEiJc Meanwhile, clashes between rebels and loyalists in Eastern Ghoutah Region continues: rebels destroyed a tank in Bouaydah http://youtu.be/7VIyETxNhzE The indiscriminate pounding of Qaboun continues http://youtu.be/SSv_K785J94 MiGs continue to take part in the pounding as well: Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/FcaK6-912Vo Helicopter gunships continue to drop Thermobaric bombs on the region http://youtu.be/eSmOJJTTf28
In Deir Ezzor City, militias loyal to Assad regime keep targeting mosques with their shelling http://youtu.be/DAA8AVUbXaE Some neighborhoods in the city have been turned completely into rubble as is the case in Jbeileh http://youtu.be/fYVHegSJxJI
Locals pull the bodies of the dead from under the rubble, following an aerial raid on Alboukamal, Deir Ezzor Province http://youtu.be/wJxGBcvD2-I