Why is the Obama administration propping up Syria’s Islamists?

Barry Rubin Director, GLORIA Center
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Imagine that it’s the middle of the Cold War. In an Asian country there’s a revolt against a dictator. The opposition wants international recognition, so it seeks U.S. help. And the American government turns over direct management of this process to … Communist China! The resulting coalition is largely dominated by China’s allies, the Communists, whose numbers far exceed their proportional role in the revolution. Some anti-Communist activists walk out in protest, but it makes no difference.

Wouldn’t you be shocked that a U.S. government has done something so stupid? Is it treason or gross incompetence? After all, U.S. aid is going to be funneled into a largely Communist-led movement and it is now much more likely that Communists will run the country if the revolution succeeds.

Oh, and not a single mainstream media organ pointed out the above situation even though it was a matter of public record.

Well, that’s just what’s happened with Syria.

The names of 19 of the 29 members of the new, U.S.-backed Syrian National Council have just been announced and, as I explained in this article, 10 of the 19 — a majority — are identifiably Islamist. At least four of them are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, two-thirds of the 15 Sunni Muslim Arabs are Islamists. Note that Sunni Muslim Arabs only comprise 60 percent of Syria’s population. Assuming that no more than 20 percent of Syrian Sunnis are Islamists (a reasonable assumption), Islamists are over-represented on the Syrian National Council by 500 percent. You could challenge that assumption, but I believe you’d end up with at least a 400 percent over-representation.

Let’s remember that the U.S.’s goal should be to push Islamist representation below a level that would be proportionate with its base of support within the country.

At most, only four of the Sunni Muslim representatives — just one-quarter — are liberals or leftists! And the non-Sunni Muslim Arabs are under-represented by 300 percent.

Remember, this is not some spontaneous choice made by the Syrian masses or even by external opposition groups. This was stage-managed by the Turks on behalf of the American government.

It should be well known by this point that the current Turkish regime is an enemy of the United States. That government not only rejected sanctions against Iran last year but tried to sabotage them. It has consistently supported Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and — until recently — the Syrian regime. And the Turkish regime has also become so hostile to Israel that some observers in Turkey think it is going to the verge of war with the Jewish state.

But that’s not all. WikiLeaks show that the U.S. embassy in Turkey has repeatedly warned about that regime’s radicalism, anti-Americanism and Islamism. Yet despite this, the Obama administration continues to treat the Turkish government as a valued ally. For example, on September 11 of this year, the Obama administration chose Turkey to be a co-founder of an international counter-terrorist group described as the main U.S. initiative in that field marking the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.!

Now the U.S. government and its Turkish Islamist friends have produced a largely Islamist council to represent the Syrian people, manage incoming aid and perhaps be the future government.

There are two issues here. First, why is the Obama administration so in love with the pro-Islamist, anti-American Turkish regime? Despite State Department warnings, the White House refuses to comprehend what’s going on here to a point that has gone far beyond stubborn blindness into the realm of willful self-sabotage.

The “Turkish model” that it is trying to spread is a design for disaster. It means installing anti-American, anti-Western regimes that are allies of some or all of the entities on the following list: Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. They will move their domestic societies toward Islamism. Their only virtue is that they aren’t al-Qaida. And in Afghanistan, the administration is even willing to work with the Taliban.

Second, why has the administration just empowered a largely Islamist Syrian leadership when Syria is a country where Islamism is relatively weak (at least in regional terms)? Why didn’t it insist on more Kurdish, Druze, Christian and Alawite representation? Why are there only two (one might argue there are three or four) moderate Sunni Arab Muslims on the list?

Again, the administration is oblivious to the fact that the great threat to the Middle East today and to U.S. interests (perhaps globally) is revolutionary Islamism. Until this situation changes, the world, the Middle East and the United States are going to be heading toward trouble.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal at Gloria-Center.org. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January.