It's Time for the U.S. to Back the Free Syria Army
by RYAN MAURO
February 7, 2012
For decades, the government of Syria has been one of the worst enemies of the U.S. and one of the best allies of Iran and terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda elements. It has chemical and biological weapons and pursues nuclear weapons. It did everything it could to turn Iraq into a mess, killing countless American soldiers and innocent Iraqis. We now have the best and cheapest opportunity to topple the regime, but we aren’t taking advantage of it.
Anti-regime protests in Syria began last year and became a full-blown revolution after the imprisonment of 15 teenage boys, ages 10 to 15, in the city of Daraa on March 6. The boys had spray-painted graffiti slogans inspired by the Arab Spring calling for the end of the dictatorship they lived under. These boys were tortured, returning home with cigarette burns and missing fingernails.
On April 29, a 13-year old boy named Hamza al-Khatib joined a crowd of protesters. He was arrested and died in custody. When his body was returned to his grieving parents on May 24, it was covered in burn marks, bruises and other injuries showing he was shot several times, viciously beaten, whipped, electrocuted, had his neck broken and his penis was cut off. His picture became the face of the revolution. Since then, a huge number of children have been killed, many shot in the head with a single sniper shot. Some estimates put the overall death toll in Syria at over 7,000, with many more killed and injured each day. Hundreds were recently killed in a massacre in the city of Homs.
Thousands of Syrian soldiers have quit the army, choosing to risk execution rather than fire upon innocents. They have assembled into the Free Syria Army (FSA), headquartered in Turkey. It claims to have 40,000 soldiers and though that number is usually dismissed as an exaggeration, it is clear that the FSA’s capabilities are growing. There are daily attacks on the regime’s thugs. It took over Zabadani and forced the regime to agree to a ceasefire there. It has taken over most of Homs and has brought the fighting to the suburbs of Damascus. And each time the regime orders its troops to crush the uprising, more soldiers defect and join the FSA.
It is time for the U.S. to recognize the FSA, directly meet with its leaders and offer it support so it can topple the regime that threatens us both. It is the morally right thing to do and is a strategic imperative.
If Assad is overthrown, Hezbollah is almost completely cut off. A main source of support for Hamas and other terrorists is removed. The state-controlled press that preaches anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is shut down. Iran loses its most critical ally. A Hezbollah official even said that saving Assad is required in order to create a “Shiite crescent” to destroy Israel. The fulfillment of the Iranian regime’s End Times vision is dependent upon retaining Syria as an outpost. There are few things worse that could happen to the Iranian regime than to lose its Syrian ally.
Opponents of intervention in Syria cite the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, but those situations are different. The Assad regime fully backs terrorism and so its replacement is unlikely to be any worse. The political and demographic situation in Syria is also far less favorable to the Islamists than Egypt is. Most of the top political prisoners are secularists, many of which are women. The Assad regime has skillfully manipulated the West’s fears of an Islamist takeover to present itself as the lesser of two evils.
The Free Syria Army does not speak in Islamist terms. It does not characterize its struggle as a holy war or say the regime is illegitimate because it is not based on Sharia law. One journalist who spent a lot of time with the rebels explained, “[they] do not appear to consider themselves mujahedin or otherwise fit the stereotype of Islamic extremists. Accordingly, individuals…[say] Islam does provide them with inspiration and strength but they do not fight for Islam and their goals are generally secular.”
The demographics are also important. About 15% of the Syrian people are Kurds, 15% are Allawites and Shiites, 10% are Christians, 10% are Bedouins and belong to tribes and 2% are from other minorities. At least 25% of the Sunnis, the majority of the population, are secular. The country’s demographic makeup leads most experts and Syrian opposition figures to estimate Islamist support at around 20-25%.
The most powerful Syrian opposition leaders are secularists opposed to the Islamist vision. One is named Kamal al-Labwani. He calls for “a reformation in Islamic culture that creates an Islam compatible with liberal values and modernism and breaks the totalitarian dogmatic Islamist thinking.” He rejects the idea of an “Islamist democratic country.”
Secular activist Burhan Ghalioun says that the new Syrian government will end all support to Hamas and Hezbollah and the “strategic, military alliance” with Iran. The Free Syria Army threatens Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, with prosecution for sending his terrorists to fight alongside Assad’s forces. The Israeli government officially welcomes regime change in Syria and is optimistic that the outcome would be different than what happened in Egypt.
Another reason that the U.S. should embrace the FSA and all the secular opposition figures in Syria is because Assad’s fall is inevitable and we should prepare for the future. The U.S. should be on the morally-superior and winning side. Out of sheer necessity, the FSA has developed ties with Libyan Islamists, Turkey’s Islamist government and appears ready to accept support from countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
It is appealing to let these other countries back the FSA instead of us, but a big cost comes with that. The U.S. gave Qatar the lead in Libya and the “ally” used its influence to boost the Islamists. When the influence of the U.S. is absent, the Islamists fill the void. We can’t counter Islamist influence if we don’t show up.
The U.S. should immediately open up relations with the Free Syria Army and offer it supplies and political support. The U.S. should also be embracing every secular opposition figure of significance. The Jordanian government, which is hated by the Islamists and has a border with Syria, should be engaged so that the FSA isn’t solely dependent upon the Islamist government of Turkey. The FSA and Syrian opposition would probably be happy to reimburse the U.S. for these costs with the frozen assets of the regime.
It’s time for Assad to pay a price for slaughtering his people, sponsoring terrorism and killing Americans.
Ryan Mauro is Family Security Matters' national security analyst. He is a fellow with RadicalIslam.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.