International Law

More on the USG Strategy to Separate the Good from the Bad in Syria

By Jack Goldsmith
Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 9:33 AM

Last weekend I linked to a Sunday Times story by a usually reliable reporter, Christina Lamb, to the effect that the USG “is launching a covert operation to send weapons to Syrian rebels.”  Today’s FT, however, quotes a senior Obama administration official denying that the USG is supplying arms to the Syrian rebels.  I don’t know what the truth is here – there are many levels of involvement in supplying arms, and a covert action is meant to be deniable.  But in any event, the USG strategy of trying to support the Syrian rebels it likes while isolating the ones it doesn’t like is proceedings apace.  In the last two days the USG has recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition as (in President Obama’s words) “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” and designated the militarily successful but al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organization.  The attempt to isolate Al Nusra, however, continues to face hurdles among “mainstream” Syrian rebels (see here and here).  This morning’s FT story reports:

Within Syria there was growing resentment at the US decision to target the group at a time when Washington remains reluctant to become more involved in the civil war.  A Facebook page called “We are all Jabhat al-Nusra” has been set up to call for protests across Syria on Friday against “American meddling”.  Late on Tuesday, the page had more than 20,000 “likes” and claimed to represent more than 30 Syrian factions.

The angry reaction is further evidence of the disconnection between the Obama administration, which is focusing heavily on what will happen in Syria if the Assad regime falls but has ruled out direct intervention, and many of the rebel groups on the ground who are eager for immediate assistance.

“The Americans know exactly where Assad and his family’s palace is,” said one comment on the Facebook page. “If they wanted to get rid of him, they could have, but instead they target the Jabhat because it represents Islam.”