The Folly of Arming Syria’s Moderates
The collapse of US backed Syrian opposition groups is indicative of a greater issue within the moderate opposition. The moderate opposition in Syria is on its last legs and is more concerned with fighting the Assad regime than with fighting against jihadists like the Islamic State. The latest victim, the Hazzm Movement, an alliance of about 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels and vetted by the CIA was supplied with weapons including small arms and trained in Qatar, recently disbanded.
They were supposed to be the backbone of the armed forces that would take the fight to the Islamic State as American proxy ground troops in Syria. By late 2014 and early 2015 they were attacked by the Al-Nusra Front. The Idlib branch of the movement buckled under pressure and American funding was cut off. The group as of now has been dissolved. Many of its fighters joined the Islamist State and others defected to the Al-Nusra Front.
Events like this showcase exactly why the recent program announced at a price of tag of several hundred million dollars in order to build up the moderate rebels will be for naught because the West is a day late and a dollar short. In fact it will actually produce more harm than the little good it will do.
This is for a variety of reasons. The issue is economics. In order to properly build a powerful alternative to both Islamist rebel groups and the Syrian government this late in the game it will take billions of dollars which is a commitment the West will not make. The second issue is political will.
The politics of arming rebel groups in the middle of a foreign Middle Eastern country strikes many nuanced policy leaders as an “outdated” and “cold war”-ish policy unsuited to today’s supposedly new world of cooperation and international law. Even the pittance allocated to the program will be made ineffective because policy leaders will drag their feet. There is an unwillingness to match actions with words. The West repeatedly calls for Assad to step aside (knowing full well he will not) while arming his opponents on the ground (but not enough for him to be overthrown).
This is the foreign policy equivalent of poking a hornet’s nest and illustrates Assad’s resilience and the West’s ineptitude. The third issue relates to the rebels and motivation.
Guerrilla groups who seek to take down the government of Syria need highly motivated men who are willingly to stay the course. In the Middle East the motivating force is the cause of Islam. The more Islamic a group is the more fervor it can incite in its own troops. This is why the Islamic State in Syria grew from a small militia of a couple hundred to an army of thousands. The United States can continually fund moderate Syrian rebels but unless they are fighting for something greater they will lose.