Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday warned of “extremists” trying “to hijack the Syrian revolution,” and detailed US efforts to organize a cohesive Syrian opposition to replace the defunct Syrian National Council.
“We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition,” Clinton said of the persistently disorganized council of exiles and expats. “They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard.”
“We facilitated the smuggling out of a few representatives of the Syrian internal opposition in order for them to explain to the countries gathered why they must be at the table. This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30, or 40 years.”
“There needs to be an opposition that can speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria,” she said. “And we also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution.”
The Obama administration denies it is sending any arms to the Syrian rebels; official policy is to send non-lethal aid. But they do admit that US allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are sending in weapons, and the CIA has been reported to have helped facilitate the delivery of those weapons to Syria.
The problem thus far has been that much of that aid has gone into the hands of the extremists Clinton talked about. Foreign jihadist fighters, many of whom have committed war crimes and are linked with al-Qaeda, have been increasingly flooding into Syria and the great bulk of the rebel fighters across the country a Islamists seeking to set up an Islamic state post-Assad that will potentially be exlusivist towards the country’s many ethnic and religious sects.
The influence of the Syrian opposition’s other primary backers – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – should be enough to establish that US meddling in setting up a potential interim group is unlikely to produce a democratic, rights-conscious replacement for Assad.
And many in the region are justifiably skeptical that Washington isn’t the one trying to “hijack” the revolution, given the recent history of US foreign policy.