Syria is much like Egypt. While it is a Muslim-dominated country with a rich Islamic history, it has also had a secular, authoritarian government for decades. And like Egypt, Syria is a country of considerable ethnic and religious diversity, a country with a high literacy rate, a large educated class, and a reasonably good educational system. The point here is that there is no more popular support for the creation of an Islamic state in Syria than there is in Egypt. The Arab world is very much divided in its vision of the desired outcome of the Arab Spring.
The Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army is headed by defected leaders of Assad’s military establishment, and the majority of its fighters are defected Syrian military soldiers and citizen militia, and they number about 200,000 fighters. Of these, roughly 10,000 are Syrian Islamist fighters. There are also about 2,000 foreign jihadist fighters from around the world, who have come to Syria to fight because of their deep Islamic religious fundamentalist beliefs. These are estimates were provided by FSA Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi.
The Syrian people are desperate. As former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright remarked recently on the television program Face the Nation, it is hard to imagine how things in Syria could become worse as a result of an American military strike. The Syrian civil war has caused the most dire humanitarian crisis on the planet. Over a 100,000 people have died, every manner of war crime has been committed by the regime against its own people, and over two million Syrians are now refugees, many being without the most basic means of survival. The likelihood that a targeted U.S. strike against military assets of the Assad regime could actually make things worse for the Syrian people is an argument that simply does not stand up to critical scrutiny. How could things be worse?
The Syrian opposition has been accepting support from any and all sources. The majority of the opposition fighters have made it quite plain that they are not particularly fond of the presence of foreign fighters in their country, but anyone who opposes Assad is a nominal ally.
I believe that it is true and fair to say, and I say this as an Obama partisan, that the Obama administration missed an opportunity to be the principal ally of the Syrian opposition, and thus deferred this role to the jihadists. On the other hand, American involvement taints the noblest of motivations in the eyes of the Arab world. It is a foreign policy no-win scenario for the Obama administration. Thank you, George Bush.
Here, from the archives, is the essence of the political philosophy of the Syrian opposition movement, as published in late February of this year by the conference of the Syrian National Coalition, in Cairo, Egypt:
The Syrian Coalition’s Closing Statements of the General Assembly — Cairo, Egypt
The Syrian Coalition’s Closing Statements of the General Assembly Meeting Outline the Framework of a Political Solution and Announce a Date for the Selection of a Prime Minister for the Interim Government
In its meeting on February 21-22, 2013, in Cairo, Egypt, The Syrian Coalition defined the framework of a political initiative that is inline with advancements on the ground, while at the same time ensures achieving the goals of the revolution, the preservation of human life, stability, infrastructure and institutions. Such a political solution must be founded within the following fundamental parameters:
1. Achieving the goals of the Syrian revolution, which include: justice, freedom, liberty, and dignity, while preserving human life, and sparing the country further destruction, devastation and dangers. Furthermore, it is important to preserve the unity and sovereignty of Syria, geographically, politically, and socially, as the ultimate goal is to achieve a civil, democratic and pluralistic Syria, where all citizens are equal regardless of gender, religion, or ethnicity.
2. The removal of Bashar Al-Assad and all of the security and military leadership responsible for the decisions that have destroyed the country and terrorized its people. These individuals do not fall within the confines of any political framework and will not be a part of this political solution. They must be held accountable for their crimes.
3. The political solution and the future of our country encompasses all Syrians, including honorable persons from within the current security forces, the Baathist regime and any other government, civil or political organization, so long as these individuals were not involved in crimes against the Syrian people.
4. All initiative must be defined by the above parameters, set within a specific time frame, and must include a clear and announced goal.
5. International guarantees from the Security Council, and especially from Russia and the United States, as well as international support and safeguards are important for the realization of any initiatives through a binding UN Security Council resolution.
6. A commitment to continue supporting the revolution on the ground to tip the scale of power in support of the revolution.
7. Obtaining the necessary support from the friends of Syria and its neighbors within the region is also vital for a successful political solution within the above parameters.
8. The General Assembly of the Coalition is the only body authorized to propose a political initiative on behalf of the Syrian Coalition.
The Syrian Coalition’s General Assembly has decided to form an interim government for Syria that will carry out its duties from within the Syrian territories. The Coalition set a date of March 2nd, 2013 to select a prime minister from amongst the candidates nominated by the General Assembly, within the agreed upon parameters and after consultation with Syrian opposition forces and the revolutionary movement.
The General Assembly of the Syrian Coalition condemns the barbaric bombing and assault, which once again targeted several civilian neighborhoods in Aleppo. These attacks were carried out using Russian made ballistic missiles and caused severe damage and loss of life.
These bombings and attacks on densely populated neighborhoods with missiles launched from a distance of over 400 km away are a crime against humanity. The head of this criminal regime, those who carry out these attacks and those who supply this regime with weapons of mass destruction bear the full moral and political responsibility of these crimes. Furthermore, those who deprive the Syrian people from a fair and equal defense by failing to provide them with the necessary weapons to do so also bear the moral and political responsibility of these vicious attacks.