The deal that will supposedly disarm the Syrian army of its chemical weapons and leaves Bashar al-Assad in power to conduct it will inevitably strengthen his position, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tells McClatchy in an exclusive interview. The process will take months, if not years, and depends on Assad both controlling the weapons and cooperating with the UN inspection regime for as long as it takes to complete:
The head of NATO said Wednesday that the U.S. threat of a military strike had forced Syria to agree to surrender its chemical weapons and the potential use of force must remain to help compel compliance with its agreement to disarm.
But he added that a United Nations inspection program to find, secure, and move or destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile could help solidify President Bashar Assad’s grip on power because such a program would require his assistance and probably take many months to complete.
No kidding! Don’t think that this isn’t by design, either. The deal was crafted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after an off-hand comment by Secretary of State John Kerry gave them the opening to eclipse the US on the chemical-weapons crisis in Syria. The Russians have a big interest in keeping Assad in power, both for economic reasons and for their strategic imperatives of tamping down radical Islamist fervor in the region. In that sense, Libya was a flat-out disaster (that the West still won’t admit), and Syria was on its way to the same conclusion until Vladimir Putin and Lavrov outplayed Kerry and Barack Obama.
Left unsaid, of course, is the incentives this sets up and their implications for compliance. Assad becomes essential to everyone during the disarmament process, but expendable to the West once it finishes. What incentive does Assad have to expedite the process, or complete it at all? What incentives do Putin and Lavrov have in pushing Assad along? The threat of Western force, perhaps, but Obama showed that to be a pretty empty threat, and an ill-advised one at that.
And that’s hardly the only ill-advised move made by the US. Rasmussen disagrees with Obama and John McCain that a moderate core of the Syrian rebellion controls the fight, or can control the outcome later — and worries that we’re arming the Islamist extremists instead:
“To be very open and frank, it is a fact that the opposition counts extremists and terrorist groups, and I don’t shy away from using the phrase ‘terrorist groups,’ ” Rasmussen said. “Of course, it is weakening the opposition.”
The rise of Syrian fighters from al Qaida-affiliated groups and other radical movements makes it more difficult for Western nations to provide arms and other assistance to the Syrian rebels, Rasmussen said.
“Many nations are reluctant to provide particular weapons in a situation where we can’t be sure those weapons won’t fall into the wrong hands,” he said.
The Washington Post reports today on the developments I noted yesterday, in which the largest Syrian rebels groups have declared their allegiance to an Islamist outcome:
American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group, which will further complicate fledgling U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to “moderate” rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Others include the Tawheed Brigade, the biggest Free Syrian Army unit in the northern city of Aleppo; Liwa al-Islam, the largest rebel group in the capital, Damascus; and Ahrar al-Sham, the most successful nationwide franchise of mostly Syrian Salafist fighters. Collectively, the new front, which does not yet have a formal name but has been dubbed by its members the “Islamist Alliance,” claims to represent 75 percent of the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
Gen. Salim Idriss, the head of the moderate Supreme Military Council and the chief conduit for U.S. aid to the rebels, cut short a visit to Paris after the announcement of the alliance overnight Tuesday and will head to Syria on Thursday to attempt to persuade the factions to reconsider, according to the council’s spokesman, Louay al-Mokdad.
They’re not abandoning Idriss, the rebel groups say, but only the Syrian National Coalition, which the US insists has to represent the rebels in peace talks. However, Idriss isn’t going back to Syria to get the groups to drop their allegiance to the radical Islamist cause, but just to stop talking about it while he continues to plead for Western support. This is the nature of the Islamist rebellion in Syria and has been for quite a long time — which is a big reason why Russia made sure to make Assad the indispensable man in Syria.