Before ISIS had formally split from al-Qaeda, there was often talk about “good al-Qaeda versus bad al-Qaeda” in Syria, centering around ISIS as the more extreme group, and Jabhat al-Nusra as the slightly less extreme group.
That talk sort of died on the vine, as Nusra lost fight after fight to ISIS, and became less relevant. Now, with al-Qaeda taking much of the Idlib Province and setting up a little statelet of their own, there is a new push in the US to endorse them as new allies against ISIS.
It’s the Hitler vs. Stalin thing all over again, and hawks desperate for a successful ally on the ground in Syria are desperately trying to rebrand al-Qaeda of all people as the “lesser of two evils,” and hoping to repair the terrorist group’s image domestically, which is still considerably tarnished after 9/11.
Can it really work though? After over a decade of war against al-Qaeda and with no intervening period of calm, it is hard to imagine that the administration or anyone else is going to be able to sell a de facto alliance with al-Qaeda as the lesser of two anythings, let alone a plan for “winning” Syria.
Underscoring exactly what a tough sell this is going to be, al-Qaeda is on the warpath in its newly conquered territory, attacking a Druze village and killing at least 20 civilians there. Attacks on religious minorities are every bit as de rigueur in al-Qaeda as they are in the ISIS caliphate, and that reflects the reality that Jabhat al-Nusra is the same old al-Qaeda.