The leader of the Syrian rebel coalition has asked the United States to reconsider sanctions against an al-Qaida faction fighting alongside the coalition, on the same day that White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the coalition would support democracy when the civil war ends.
“We believe that the Syrian people, and the Syrian opposition coalition … are interested in a future for Syria that includes a transition towards greater democracy, greater rights for its citizens, more economic prosperity,” Carney said Dec. 12.
But the head of the coalition today called on Washington to reconsider the terror sanction on the Syrian al-Nusrah Front fighting group. That sanction restricts the flow of U.S. aid to the coalition.
“We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime,” National Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said Dec. 12 at a Morocco meeting.
The meeting was called by the U.S. and other countries to declare the Syrian coalition the legitimate government of Syria.
That’s a risky policy, because the administration has inadvertently helped jihadi-allied Islamist groups gain weapons and power in Libya, Egypt and Mali.
President Barack Obama’s decision to support the Syrian rebels has won some applause in the nation’s capital.
“He did the right thing — he just did it about 15, 16 months too late,” Ralph Peters, a writer and former Army officer, told Fox News Dec. 12.
“By not supporting those [Syrians] fighting for a secular democracy … we have empowered some awful jihadis,” he said.
The U.S. should give weapons — not just rhetorical support — to non-jihadi rebels to help then win the civil war that will begin once Syria’s dictatorship collapses, he added.
“We can sort them out — it is a myth that we can’t tell the difference,” he said.
Weapons are needed, because “words don’t kill people, arms do,” he said, adding that democracy-minded rebels could kill many jihadis.
On Dec. 11, the White House designated one of the Syrian rebel groups, the al-Nusrah front, a terror group created by al-Qaida’s affiliate in neighboring Iraq.
Iraq’s al-Qaida force was mauled by the U.S. campaign in 2006 and 2007, but President Obama withdrew those U.S. forces in 2011.
The al-Nusrah front is one of the more effective anti-regime groups in Syria — both because its members are hardened survivors of the successful U.S. campaign in Iraq, and because they’re jihadis who believe that being killed will get them to Islam’s heaven.
Its members have attacked Syria’s Christian communities and other minorities, and are suspected of murdering civilians and prisoners. But coalition opposes the terror designation, in part, because it hinders the flow of non-military aid from the United States.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already funding the rebels and supplying arms.
Both countries are run by Islamist governments. Saudi Arabia, for example, has promised $100 million a month in aid to the Syrian rebels.
Those two countries are part of the Morocco meeting to support the Syrian coalition. The coalition was formed at a November meeting in Qatar, which also created the Al Jazeera TV station to promote Islamist groups.
Wealthy people in those countries are also believed to fund the al-Nusrah group.
When asked for evidence that the Syrian rebel groups would support democracy when the two-year civil war ends, Carney simply repeated the claim that Syrians want a democratic Syria.
“We firmly believe that that the vast majority of the Syrian population do not share those [al-Qaida] extremist goals,” he told reporters at the press conference.
“We believe — we think there is ample evidence to support the idea that the Syrian people want a future free from Bashar al-Assad, and a future that is more democratic,” he told The Daily Caller.
Carney’s testament comes as Arab democracy supporters are facing growing Islamic power in Tunisia, Mali, Libya, Egypt and other countries.
In Tunisia, the elected Islamist government is trying to sideline secular and liberals groups, such as university-educated women.
Following the U.S.-backed 2011 insurgency in Libya, Islamist groups are fighting for power in the country’s nascent government, and successfully destroyed two U.S. centers in the country last Sept. 11. Some of the groups are armed with weapons supplied by Qatar.
In Mali, Islamists have imposed orthodox Islam on the northern part of the country, complete with amputations for suspected thieves, veils for women, destruction of books, musical instruments, religious products and buildings, plus executions for violation of Islam’s sharia laws.
The Islamists are armed with government weapons looted from abandoned armories in the neighboring country of Libya.
In Egypt, Islamists have control of the parliament, the upper house and the presidency, after publicly pledging not to seek control. They’re now using a Dec. 15 referendum, which is expected to establish an Islamic constitution that would create an apartheid-like society in which women — and the country’s 8 million Christians — are subordinated to Muslim men.
Since 2009, White House officials have repeatedly underestimated the popularity of Arab Islamists, including the most important multinational group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
“They don’t have majority support in Egypt,” Obama told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly in February 2011. “Here’s the thing that we have to understand: There are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well.”
“It’s important for us not to say that our own only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed people,” he said.
However, Islamic revivalists, including the Brotherhood and the more fundamentalist “Salafis,” won roughly 75 percent of Egypt’s parliamentary seats in elections held in 2011 and 2011, and held 75 percent of the seats on the panel that drafted the new constitution.
The revivalists also won a narrow 52 percent victory in the presidential election for Mohammed Morsi, a top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in June 2012.