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“Moderate” Rebels Protest U.S. Strikes in Syria

Another reason to doubt the wisdom of the latest war.

Many groups belonging to the “moderate” Syrian opposition have denounced U.S. strikes in Syria, especially those that have targeted members of Jabhat al-Nusra, the organization affiliated with Al Qaeda that is on the State Department’s official terrorist list:

On Tuesday, nearly a dozen of the FSA’s most powerful groups signed a declaration denouncing the strikes, demanding they target the Syrian regime, too [bold mine-DL]. In a heated meeting with the Syrian opposition in Istanbul Thursday, U.S. officials demanded an explanation for the statement condemning the American-led coalition, an opposition official said.

“They said ‘friends don’t speak against friends,’ ” said an opposition official with knowledge of the meeting. “We told them, ‘true friendship means coordination.'” The meeting was confirmed by a second opposition official.

It’s not surprising that opposition groups are unhappy with the way that the U.S. is fighting this war so far. After all, their primary adversary is the Syrian government, and so far the U.S. isn’t attacking regime forces. They see the U.S. intervening directly in the civil war after years of not doing so, and they are predictably displeased that the U.S. is targeting other anti-regime groups along with ISIS.

The opposition complaints are revealing. The “moderate” opposition that the U.S. is foolishly arming and training doesn’t have the same priorities as the U.S. in this conflict (and there was never any reason to think that it would). Many groups in the FSA are opposed to and offended by military action against a jihadist group that the U.S. correctly views as a terrorist organization. That ought to be the latest in a series of flashing warning signs that the U.S. has absolutely nothing to gain in backing such “moderates.” Friends might not “speak against” friends, but it’s long past time that we realized that the U.S. doesn’t have friends–or even useful proxies–in the Syrian conflict. It is yet another reason to doubt the wisdom of expanding the ISIS war into Syria, and by extension it is another reason to doubt the wisdom of the intervention in its entirety.

Supporters of expanding the war against ISIS into Syria seem to assume that “moderate” rebels will pursue Washington’s goals, but that isn’t going to happen. Like any proxy group, the “moderate” opposition was always going to pursue its own agenda, and there was never going to be much that the U.S. could do about this, especially when it was so intent on trying to “shape” events. These opposition protests confirm what opponents of arming Syrian rebels have taken for granted from the start: providing arms to rebels isn’t going to gain the U.S. the influence or control that Syria hawks want, and the belief that the U.S. can build up a “moderate” alternative to both the regime and jihadists has always been a fantasy. As these protests remind us, many “moderate” rebels don’t consider Jabhat al-Nusra and similar groups to be their enemy, but they do predictably view the group as their ally against Assad. That underscores just how absurd the preoccupation with identifying “moderate” rebels in a brutal civil war has been from the start. It is a label created to evade the underlying problem with taking the anti-regime side in Syria’s civil war, which is that it puts the U.S. in league with jihadists or the allies of jihadists.