The Kremlin must be such a fun place to work lately:
Speaking at a forum of journalists and political scientists, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that he could not be 100 percent sure that the government of Syria will comply with a plan to destroy chemical weapons. “Will we manage to carry it through? I can’t say 100 percent, but all that we have seen recently, in the last few days, inspires confidence that it is possible and that it will be done,” Putin said.
The key news out of Syria this week, by the way, isn’t the disarmament kabuki at the UN but the fact that the war-within-a-war among rebel groups is now fierce enough to attract major western media attention. The Journal has a long read today about jihadi outfits in northern and eastern Syria launching attacks against the Free Syrian Army (in one instance entitled, charmingly, “Operation Expunging Filth”). How do you fight the regime goon in front of you when you’re being shot at by the fanatic behind you? Good question:
Some FSA fighters now consider the extremists to be as big a threat to their survival as the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
“It’s a three-front war,” a U.S. official said of the FSA rebels’ fight: They face the Assad regime, forces from its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, and now the multinational jihadist ranks of ISIS…
Along Syria’s border with Turkey, ISIS fighters are trying to wrest the four major crossings from other rebel units, in a bid to control supply routes, according to rebels battling the extremists, and Western officials.
In recent weeks, ISIS fighters have adopted a strategy of dropping back—taking rear positions—as rebels with the FSA alliance leave for front lines to fight government forces, allowing ISIS to build a presence in towns and villages left without security or services.
FSA leaders claim Obama’s dithering has been a propaganda coup for ISIS, who are now telling the locals that they’ll never be able to rely on a fickle America to protect them. I wonder too how much of O’s blathering about “red lines” has inadvertently encouraged the jihadis to be more aggressive about purging the “moderates” in their midst. If you’re a fanatic worried that the United States is about to jump into Syria, whether through strikes on Assad or more significant aid to the FSA, logically you’d want to weaken the moderates sooner rather than later. The better armed they are, the more they can threaten the new caliphate you’re trying to set up. Expunge “the filth” now and you don’t need to worry about them in the future. We already have reason to believe that Obama’s meaningless tough talk about “red lines” last year made it harder to neutralize Assad’s WMD; it’d be perversely fitting if it also made it harder to neutralize the jihadis on the other side.
The punchline to all this is that one of the things keeping the U.S. and western allies from arming the FSA more robustly is that they’re not quite antagonistic enough towards the jihadis who are fighting Assad. Time mag had an interesting piece a few days ago about how, while some Al Qaeda-type outfits wage war against the FSA in some parts of Syria, in other parts the two movements still unite for joint operations against Assad’s troops. If you’re a CIA analyst looking to arm the “moderates,” then, you have to deal not only with the risk that jihadis will crush the people you’re arming and take their weapons but also the risk that the people you’re arming will fight alongside the jihadis and maybe lend them their weapons. How do you negotiate that?
Speaking of neutralizing Assad’s WMD, here’s the man himself telling Fox News last night that America might need to pony up a cool billion in order to make it happen. The way this process has been going, I half-expect Obama to reject the idea out of hand and give him two billion instead.
Update: “Motive unclear.”
The Syrian regime is again moving around its stockpile of chemical weapons, leaving the United States trying to figure out what Bashar al-Assad will do next with his deadly arsenal…
“There is activity at known chemical weapons storage sites,” one official said. “What is unclear is whether they are moving them to consolidate the stockpile and then declare it, or are they moving it around to conceal it” in advance of reporting it to international inspectors.
Any guesses as to which it is?