The Skeptics

Why Washington's 'Rebel Support' Plans Keep Failing

An especially revealing incident underscored the Jabhat al-Nusra dominance. One of the allegedly moderate groups Washington has backed is the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF). The Obama administration even supplied the SRF with TOW anti-tank missiles. When a combined force of Jabhat al-Nusra and non-jihadi forces captured a major Syrian army base at Wadi Deif in December 2014, the power relationship among the various groups soon became quite clear. Only Nusra and its close ideological ally Ahrar al-Sham were allowed to enter the base. The SRF and other less radical types were excluded.

Yet that treatment was relatively mild compared to Porter’s account of what Jabhat al-Nusra administered to another U.S.-supported group, Harakat Hazm, in April 2015. Before a campaign was launched against government-held Idlib province, Jabhat al-Nusra forced Harakat Hazm to disband. The militants then confiscated all of the TOW missiles Washington had given the latter entity.

The Jabhat al-Nusra has renamed itself Tahrir al-Sham, but that move and the official severing of ties with Al Qaeda has done nothing to change the nature of the organization or its controlling position in the Syrian insurgency. Islamists indisputably dominate that movement.

Washington’s ill-advised support for Syrian rebels deserves a niche alongside similar policy embarrassments regarding Nicaragua, Angola, Kosovo, Iraq and Libya. Time and again, U.S. officials have supported insurgent movements that turn out to be as bad as, or even worse than, the regimes they seek to overthrow. One wonders how often that ugly experience needs to be repeated before American leaders learn the appropriate lessons.  Let’s hope that the Syrian debacle will be the last unfortunate episode.

Ted Galen Carpenter is a senior fellow in defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest. He is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs.

Image: A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon in al-Ghariyah al-Gharbiyah town, in Deraa province, Syria July 22, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir.