David Ignatius: Unity proves elusive in Syria

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: November 25, 2012
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The U.S. plans to step up its efforts to work with key backers of the opposition — such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and France — to build a stronger command structure. U.S. officials specifically applaud the efforts of several military council commanders who have tried to foster unity. One key role for these councils is to broaden the opposition beyond its Sunni jihadist roots.

The political opposition formed a united front this month after a meeting in Doha, Qatar, that created a new group formally called the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. It has since been recognized by France, Britain, Turkey, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Union. Political unity followed pressure from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on regional powers that had been backing different groups that were constantly squabbling.

Unfortunately, the rebel military council leadership was not included in the Doha effort. Council military leaders thought they would be invited, but the invitations never came. This has added to demoralization.

U.S. and Syrian sources agree that to create military unity, the CIA will have to push friendly intelligence services to pool funding and other support behind a unified command. U.S. officials hope that process will happen over the next month, but rebel leaders fear this could be too late.

A coherent, nonextremist military structure is crucial, finally, because it could provide the path for an eventual settlement that halts all-out sectarian war. Otherwise, this will be a fight to the death between Assad's goons and radical jihadists — with poor Syria shattered in the process.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP