Answers to Friedman

In reply to my friend @giacomonyt, here are answers to Friedman’s poorly composed questions:

1. Can they name the current leader of the Syrian National Coalition, the secular, moderate opposition, and the first three principles of its political platform? Extra credit if they can name the last year that the leader of the S.N.C. resided in Syria. Hint: It’s several decades ago.

A: The SNC (Syrian National Council) is no longer what Friedman says it is. He means the Syrian Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (usually abbreviated SOC), which includes the SNC. The SOC leader is Hadi Bahra.  I have no idea when he last resided in Syria, but it isn’t likely to be recently given the oppression there. Hadi was born in Damascus but went to university in the US. So what?

The SOC principles are these:

  • Absolute national sovereignty and independence for Syria.
  • Preservation of the unity of the Syrian people.
  • Preservation of the unity of the country and its cities.
  • Overthrowing the Syrian regime and dismantling the security forces and holding responsible parties accountable for crimes against the Syrian people.
  • Not to engage in any dialogue or negotiations with the regime.
  • Uphold our commitment for a civil democratic Syria.

Of course they’ve violated number 5 by going to the Geneva 2 negotiations, which was the right thing to do but has produced no good outcome.

2. Can they explain why Israel — a country next door to Syria that has better intelligence on Syria than anyone and could be as affected by the outcome there as anyone — has chosen not to bet on the secular, moderate Syrian rebels or arm them enough to topple Assad?

A: I have reason to believe that the Israelis are helpful to the Syrian opposition when possible, even though they understand perfectly well that it will be more insistent on return of Golan than Bashar al Asad, who has essentially let the matter drop. Israeli intelligence officers can tell you all about the configuration of forces on their border with Syria and the risks that extremists pose there. They have wanted Asad gone, because they knew that letting him stay would increase the likelihood of an extremist succession.

3. The United States invaded Iraq with more than 100,000 troops, replaced its government with a new one, suppressed its Islamist extremists and trained a “moderate” Iraqi army, but, the minute we left, Iraq’s “moderate” prime minister turned sectarian. Yet, in Syria, Iraq’s twin, we’re supposed to believe that the moderate insurgents could have toppled Assad and governed Syria without any American boots on the ground, only arming the good rebels. Really?

A:  Does Friedman really believe that invasion and foreign occupation is the only way to bring down a dictator? Maliki was sectarian before we left. He didn’t turn that way afterwards. The moderates we should have supported in Syria from the first were the nonviolent protesters. Had they been successful–and it is likely they would have been much faster than the armed rebellion–this question would not have arisen.

4. How could the good Syrian rebels have triumphed in Syria when the main funders of so many rebel groups there — Qatar and Saudi Arabia — are Sunni fundamentalist monarchies that oppose the very sort of democratic, pluralistic politics in their own countries that the decent Syrian rebels aspire to build in Syria?

A: This implies that if the Qataris and Saudis get their way Syria will be a Sunni fundamentalist monarchy. Really? There is good reason for both the Saudis and the Qataris to oppose the Islamic State and to support a relatively moderate regime in Syria.

5. Even if we had armed Syrian moderates, how could they have defeated a coalition of the Syrian Alawite army and gangs, backed by Russia, backed by Iran, backed by Hezbollah — all of whom play by “Hama Rules,” which are no rules at all — without the U.S. having to get involved?

A: Whatever US involvement is needed now to defeat the Islamic State will be much greater than would have been required two years ago to defeat Asad.

6. How is it that some 15,000 Muslim men from across the Muslim world have traveled to Syria to fight for jihadism and none have walked there to fight for pluralism, yet the Syrian moderates would not only have been able to defeat the Assad regime — had we only armed them properly — but also this entire jihadist foreign legion?

A: Friedman needs to meet the many Syrians and expats who have returned, not only to fight but more importantly to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian population, establish some semblance of governance in liberated areas and counter the push toward extemism and sectarianism. The jihadist foreign legion was attracted by Asad’s success. They would not have emerged in Syria had he failed early in the game.

PS: In my haste this morning, I skipped an important point.  The arming of the moderate opposition was never proposed to defeat Asad’s forces. It was intended to bring him to a serious negotiation for a democratic transition. That it might have achieved, had it been aggressive enough.

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