It is not clear whether these groups are under the Brotherhood’s discipline. If they aren’t then the situation is even worse since that means the Salafist forces are stronger than they seem.
Even this numerical advantage understates the Brotherhood’s power because its political leadership is centralized while Jabhat al-Nusra is spread thinly across the country and the Syrian Islamic Front is a loose coalition of different Salafist groups.
But the Brotherhood won’t suppress even the most extremist ones, that is al Qaeda, as long as they don’t attack the new central government and don’t disrupt the country too much. The Brotherhood will let them attack, massacre, and bully the country’s Alawites, Christians, Druze, political moderates and non-Islamist women.
The too-late proposed Western strategy is to strengthen non-Islamist forces in Syria and to create safe zones, for minorities and to keep out Salafists, near Syria’s borders. This looks good on paper but it won’t work for several reasons.
First, the non-Islamist forces are too weak to hold any territory. This might be influenced by the successful creation of such a zone for the Kurds in northern Iraq. Yet the Iraqi Kurds were a well-armed, coherent ethnic group that was sufficiently united and had favorable terrain. These conditions don’t apply to Syria, or at least only for Syrian Kurds and Druze, not for the Sunni Muslim majority or Christian minority. The setting up of safe zones on, say, the Jordanian and Israeli borders will simply be an attractive target for Salafists who will mobilize popular support by branding the “moderates” as the traitorous tools of infidels and attacking them. Non-Islamist forces are also at this point unreliable and some of those groups touted as “moderates” seem to be closer to the Brotherhood.
And then we will once again be told that the Islamists and lots of Muslims only hate the West because it invades their countries and intervenes against them. Incidentally, don’t be surprised when after the revolution the victorious Islamists will claim that the West was behind the old dictatorship–a lie–and that not giving the rebels even more weapons was a Western stab in the back that further merits hatred.
Given these realities, then, the task of Western policy will be based on the understanding that they will not be able to shape events in Syria. It could have been different if a proper policy had been followed earlier.
The best that can be done now would be to help Christians either to survive or flee; to assist Druze and Kurds protect themselves by strengthening the former’s militia and the latter’s autonomy; and even, as a purely humanitarian strategy if Assad has fallen, to help Alawite civilians not guilty of war crimes to escape. Otherwise, thousands of people could be massacred.
There are other important issues that simply are not being fully discussed:
Will Western countries allow those in threat of being killed to be granted political asylum for thousands of Druze, Christians, Alawites, and moderate Sunni Arabs? Or will they insist that everything is great in Syria and even push back the refugees who have already left the country?
Will Western countries correct the disastrous policy toward Egypt and actually help moderate Sunni Arabs, or at least anti-Islamist Sunni Arabs, to organize for elections and political influence so that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists don’t steamroller over them?
Will Western countries give additional help to Israel, having helped to bring it a new and more energetic enemy on its border, or Jordan, a moderate regime that the West usually takes for granted?
Will Western countries do a better job than in Libya about collecting advanced weapons so they aren’t use for terrorism against Syria’s own people, a Syrian Kurdish autonomous zone, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq?
People will continue to debate increased Western intervention but–and U.S. policymakers now partly understand this–to deal with the strategic disaster that’s been created, in part by them.
Originally published at Rubin Reports. I
nterested in reading more about Syria? Download Barry Rubin’s book The Truth About Syria for free.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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