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US policy on Syria: A Riddle, Wrapped In A Mystery, Inside An Enigma?

Now operating in Syria as well as Iraq

Now operating in Syria as well as Iraq

WINSTON CHURCHILL – in a radio broadcast from October 1939 – famously made this observation about Russia:

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia.  It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.  That key is Russian national interest.”

With the crisis in Syria showing no signs of abating, it could be argued that the first part of Churchill’s observation still stands  in respect of the stance taken by United States but not the second. Certainly there is no discernible US interest in attacking Syria.

So, if US policy is not dictated by an obvious national interest what is happening? When one analyses US foreign policy toward Syria – and, indeed the whole of the Middle East – in terms of US national interest there are many more questions than answers.

For instance, the stance of the White House in support of the Syrian armed rebels is puzzling to say the very least.

It’s well-documented that whilst the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA)  consists of former members of the  loyalist Syrian Armed Forces (SAF) other rebels are extremists and various foreign volunteers.  For the most part, the Muslim SAF defectors appear to be largely secular in outlook whilst many of the foreign volunteers are Islamic radicals and Jihadists. An explosive mix in itself.

US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron (as well as his side-kick Nick Clegg) are all meant to be opposed to militant Islam and Jihadists.  And, of all of the groups that the White House and Westminster are bitterly opposed to, the number one on the list must be Al Qaeda.

Yet the FSA  fight alongside two major Al Qaeda-linked groups who wish to establish a Islamist state in Syria.  One is Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Last month, the U.S. State Department announced Baghdadi had moved his base of operations into Syria. The other major Al-Qaeda faction in Syria is the Al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra. It was formed in early 2012 with help from Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Al-Nusra Front is now led by Mohammad al-Golani, a Syrian national who initially downplayed the group’s links to Al-Qaeda. The Al-Nusra Front now openly declares loyalty to Al-Qaeda’s Egyptian leader, Ayman Zawahri, who is thought to be hiding in Pakistan.

Despite following different leaders, the two main Al-Qaeda factions in Syria are working together to fight the Syrian government. Both groups have been implicated in atrocities and massacres.They have also been able to recruit Sunni militants as foreign volunteers in Syria.

Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, says any military intervention that attacks Syrian government forces and degrades their capabilities will “inevitably influence the balance of power” in Syria’s civil war. He describes the Al-Qaeda factions in Syria as “strong and growing” concluding that the U.S. Congress should endorse “a robust effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” the Al-Qaeda factions in Syria before they become an even greater threat.

It’s hard not to conclude that those who appear most keen to go get involved in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation without any obvious national interest, are operating to some hidden agenda.  Why else would they support policies which give support and power to people that they’re supposedly bitterly opposed to?

Editorial note: Third Way opposes any military intervention by US or British forces in Syria. We have read the letters sent by the Speaker of the Syrian Parliament to both our Parliament and the US congress and we agree with him that we should be allies in the war on the distorted view of Islam pushed by extremists. Syria should be our friend and ally not our enemy.

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