The Syrian National Coalition—the new Syrian opposition umbrella group—recently won recognition from the more than 100 countries in the “Friends of the Syrian People” coalition, but –wary of their experience in Libya—Western countries still remain hesitant to provide arms.
Al Jazeera, last updated: December 12, 2012
Al Jazeera via Inter Press Service
More than 100 countries have recognised a new Syrian opposition coalition, opening the way for greater assistance to the forces fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, including possibly military aid.
Backing for the Syrian National Coalition, formed in Qatar in November, was given at an international conference of the “Friends of the Syrian People” in Morocco on Wednesday.
The opposition had been under intense international pressure to create a more organised and representative body to channel any aid extended by foreign countries.
While the coalition welcomed the move, the opposition said they were looking for more tangible political and financial backing and that they want members of Assad’s government to be brought to the International Criminal Court.
International recognition of the Libyan opposition gave it a huge boost in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi last year, and was later backed by Western air strikes.
Military intervention does not appear to be in the cards for Syria, where the government has the powerful backing of Russia, China and Iran.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the meeting in Marrakesh had made “extraordinary progress”.
He noted that the European Union is now renewing its weapons embargo on Syria every three months, rather than annually, to be more flexible as the situation on the ground changes.
“We want to have the ability to continue or to change our attitude on this point,” he said.
“The fact that the coalition, which is asking for the right to defend itself, is now being recognised by a hundred countries – yesterday the U.S. and first France – I think this is a very important point.”
The conference’s final statement said Assad had lost all legitimacy but stopped short of calling for him to step down, something attending ministers did say individually.
The statement also warned that any use of chemical weapons “would draw a serious response” from the international community.
“I believe that of all the meetings we have had so far for the friends of Syria, this will turn out to be the most significant,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the final news conference.
The conference members also announced new humanitarian assistance for Syrians, including $100m from Saudi Arabia and a fund to be managed by Germany and the United Arab Emirates for the reconstruction of the country after Assad falls.
Western countries have been reluctant to send arms to Syria, not the least because of their experience in Libya, where the West actively backed one side in a civil war in a country that later became awash with armed groups.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary general, said from Brussels that international recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition was a “step in the right direction of a political solution”.
“Clearly, there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria – we need a political solution,” he told Al Jazeera. “We don’t have any intention to intervene militarily.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that recognition of the Syrian opposition coalition contradicts earlier international agreements aimed at starting a Syria dialogue that would include all sides in the conflict.
Germany’s lower house of parliament will debate whether to send patriot missiles and 400 soldiers to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Germany is considering arming the border at Turkey’s request to keep the war in Syria from spilling over.
Eric Edelman, undersecretary for defense in the George W. Bush administration and a board member of the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative, has long been associated with hawkish factions in U.S. politics, advising the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Mitt Romney. Edelman has advocated a militaristic response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, calling on NATO to become directly involved in Ukraine and to reconsider its policy of not placing nuclear weapons in member states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Many international relations experts argue that such a move would likely provoke Russia into additional aggressive actions.
Otto Reich is a former U.S. diplomat who is best known for his participation in a domestic propaganda operation during the Iran-Contra affair. Since leaving government in 2004, Reich has continued to promote rightwing U.S. policies in Latin American while working as a beltway lobbyist representing Latin American governments and business interests. The Guatemalan government recently awarded a contract to Reich’s firm to “improve the perception, reputation, and the understanding of the reality of Guatemala.” Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina appears to have been motivated to hire a lobbyist to counter criticism that was spurred after the arrival in the U.S. of tens of thousands of undocumented migrant children from Central America. Molina attempted to deflect the criticism by blaming the drug war and U.S. Cold War-era policies. “Given Pérez Molina's sharp criticism of the United States' history in the region,” commented one writer, “his choice—former Reagan official and noted Cold War propagandist Otto Reich—was a shocker.”
Unlike his more ideological peers, former CNN political analyst Bill Schneider seldom engages in straightforward issue advocacy, preferring instead to discuss policy issues in terms of their implications for electoral politics or Beltway political discourse. However, Schneider—a former fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution—occasionally betrays interventionist leanings on foreign policy, declaring in a recent op-ed that “if the U.S. doesn't do anything, nothing happens. … As in Kuwait, Kosovo and Libya, if the U.S. doesn't do something [in Syria], nothing will happen. The murderous bloodletting will go on.”
The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a leading neoconservative think tank, claims to have a solution to the ongoing fallout from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq: send more troops, bomb more targets, and get involved in Syria as well. Along with peddling an aggressive expansion of NATO along Russia’s borders and expounding on the virtues of nuclear weapons, FPI’s recent publications have urged the U.S. to send troops to Iraq and potentially Syria, launch an aggressive campaign of airstrikes against ISIS, and funnel arms to the Iraqi army (which previously handed over its weapons to ISIS), Sunni rebels in Syria (who could do the same), and Kurdish fighters in Iraq.
Retired Gen. Jack Keane is a frequent guest on Fox News and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, where he is a reliable advocate for hawkish, aggressive U.S. foreign policies. Keane has been a vocal supporter of U.S. strikes in both Iraq and Syria on ISIS. However, left unmentioned in Keane's media appearances are his extensive ties to military contractors that might benefit from a protracted conflict in the Middle East—including Academi, the latest incarnation of the notorious Blackwater, which in 2012 hired Keane as a “strategic adviser.”
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