Can the U.S. Government Buy Moderation in the Middle East? No!
2. Syria, the Bashar al-Assad regime
For two years, during the first half of the Obama administration, the United States tried to buy Syria out of its alliance with Iran by dangling trade and other financial inducements. We were assured that the Syrians would eagerly "sell out." But of course this never happened.
3. Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood
After the civil war began, when the United States tried to isolate the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) in December 2012 by designating it as a terrorist group, even the Free Syrian Army, supposedly the moderates, denounced the move -- as did more than 30 Syrian Salafist rebel groups. This was despite the offers of weapons and money. U.S. officials dealing with the Islamist rebel groups knew that they could not get them to do anything the United States wanted. Nevertheless, at the recent meeting of the Syrian opposition, the State Department spokesman explained:
We have recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, and we will work with Prime Minister Hitto. Our assistance will be channeled in large part through him and his team into these towns in liberated parts of Syria.
Translation: One among several opposition groups -- the one controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood -- is recognized by the United States as the legitimate representative (even though many groups are boycotting it); the Muslim Brotherhood's guy is the "prime minister"; and the U.S. government intends to disburse a total of $1 billion raised internationally through the Muslim Brotherhood. How much patronage will that buy for the Brotherhood?
Kerry also announced that $250 million in U.S. taxpayer money is going to go directly to a group directed by the Muslim Brotherhood to spend as it wishes, presumably to go mainly to local Brotherhood groups and militias.
But what was the Brotherhood-dominated, so-called National Coalition -- which is the U.S. recognized opposition group -- doing at the same time? Answer: refusing to broaden its membership.
Even proposals that the Brotherhood be left with two-thirds of the seats were ultimately rejected by the Brotherhood. And who were the proposed new members? Michel Kilo and his allies, courageous moderates who the West should have been supporting all along!
After playing games on adding these people, the Brotherhood leadership turned it down. Kilo's moderate group, by the way, was not the one recognized by the United States as the "legitimate representative of the Syrian people." The National Coalition also leaves out the Kurds -- whose leadership is secular -- and except for tokens, the Alawites, Druze, and Christians, too. It basically represents the roughly 25 or 30 percent who support the various Islamist rebel groups.
They also came up with a new scheme to empower the Brotherhood's local councils within Syria as a basis for an internal opposition government that would disburse any funds. The situation is not good in rebel-controlled Syria, as there is no source of money. Would the West raise funds that would be handed out by the Muslim Brotherhood to its supporters?
Turkey and Qatar, supposed U.S. partners, are doing everything possible to support the Brotherhood. Even the Saudis now see through these schemes and reportedly realize that helping the Salafists is suicidal to their interests.
Why is it that the "official" Syrian opposition group refuses to broaden its base to non-Islamists, but still gets U.S. support?
Isn't money and weaponry supposed to provide U.S. leverage?
Meanwhile, President Obama stated recently that the United States has spent $1 trillion -- a considerable part of the deficit -- on anti-terrorism measures.
Note: My colleague, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, was on a BBC show with a British Conservative member of parliament who insisted that Syria was a secular country and that none of the rebels were Islamists. This is the level of ignorance among many politicians and others in the West.
If you are interested in reading more about Syria, you're welcome to read my book The Truth About Syria online or download it for free.
For a discussion of what I think U.S. policy toward terrorism and Islamism should be, see here.