The Obama administration publicly sought to develop a more positive relationship with the Syrian government and had no desire to pursue regime change. The funding of the opposition is at odds with its policies, and a U.S. diplomat in April 2009 said: “A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[Assad regime] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive.”
The files, parts of which are censored by the Washington Post for security reasons, do not list all of the recipients of the financing. Non-Islamists may have been supported, but every dollar that goes to an Islamist, even a “liberal, moderate” one, is a dollar that could go to secular democratic forces.
Farid Ghadry of the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria told PJ Media that this is a critical error. “The fight for Syria’s soul will remain in the hands of extremists (Assad, Muslim Brotherhood or others) as long as the West accepts the notion that its destiny is not tied to liberal and secular movements in the region,” he said.
The managing editor of NOW Lebanon, Hanin Ghaddar, wrote on April 22 that it is a mistake to believe the Assad regime’s propaganda that the protesters are radical Muslims. “If that is accurate, why are they [the Syrian security services] arresting liberal intellectuals and political activists, such as Suhair Atassi and Fayez Sarah? These two have nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalist groups,” he writes. Ghaddar explains that mosques are used as a rallying spot simply because it is the only place they can do so under the regime’s oppression and points out the crucial role of women, “veiled and unveiled,” in the uprising.
In some ways, U.S. support for Syrian Islamists is doing the Assad regime a favor. It undermines the Islamists’ secular competitors and it assists Assad in his attempts to frame the internal struggle as one between his regime and Islamic extremists. By presenting himself as the lesser of two evils, he frightens the West from supporting the opposition and he tries to dissuade his people from challenging his rule, lest they bring about theocracy, civil war, or anarchy.
The nationwide uprising that keeps spreading with each casualty gives the West an unprecedented opportunity to support the Syrian people. The Obama administration is now preparing to sanction senior Syrian officials for their human rights abuses. It should also withdraw its ambassador, consistently speak in support of the secular liberals, and remember that when it comes to taxpayer money, it is always better spent on them and not Islamists.