In Monty Python’s film “The Life of Brian,” which takes place in the Palestine of Jesus, the Judean People’s Front fights against the occupying Romans and the People’s Front of Judea at the same time. The latter group is a spin-off of the Judean Popular People’s Front. It’s almost superfluous to mention that the Popular People’s Front of Judea is also enemies with the People’s Front of Judea and likewise can’t stand the Judean People’s Front. Is that clear? Long live the "the narcissism of minor differences" (Sigmund Freud)!
In present-day Syria, the situation is similarly confusing. There, the National Council, in which Muslim Brothers, liberals, nationalists and Islamists laboriously struggle for unity, comes up against the Free Syrian Army, the National Committee for Democratic Change — in which Kurds, Socialists and Marxists are grudgingly happy with one another — the local coordinating committees, the Syrian Coalitions of Secular and Democratic Powers and the Syrian Revolutionary Committee.
If that isn’t enough, the People’s Front for Change and Freedom raises its voice. The right extremist Syrian Social National-socialist Party, not really taken seriously by the Kurd Council, considers itself to be important — to say nothing of al-Qaida. Al-Qaida doesn’t only wish the regime in hell, but also all groups between Damascus and Homs, Aleppo and Latakia, and strives purposefully to take power, even if its fighters are negligible in number. In other words: There is no unified Syrian opposition. If one can’t put one’s finger on “the” rebels or “the” freedom fighters, then whom should the West support?
“Our revolutionaries” may be an answer. However, experiences in Afghanistan speak against it. During the Soviet occupation, the U.S. provided the insurgents with weapons. A little later they had to witness their valiant resistance fighters transformed into terrorists in the mold of the Taliban. Zbigniew Brzezinski could tell us about this. The security advisor of American President Jimmy Carter was considered the rocket supplier of the Taliban. Today he prefers not to be reminded of it.
Freedom Fighters in Afghanistan Became Taliban
More than 30 years later, something similar to Hindu Kush could happen in Syria. Furthermore, the Western-oriented opponents of the Syrian regime form a minority in the camp of oppositionists. Whether they will ever be able to prevail is questionable. The West is therefore well-advised to rein back if it once again considers intervening in the Syrian civil war. Good will is not always good policy.
Sending one’s own soldiers to provide peace and order for the Syrians would also be possible. Yet the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have made clear: The West does not have the ability to use war as a means of establishing order. After years of heavy fighting, Syria would have to be occupied for decades. Neither the Americans, French, Britons nor the Germans have the power, will or money for that. Together with the Russians they are stalling for time and the peace-bringing blessing of an international Syria conference, one whose prospects for success are as slight as the onset of winter in the Syrian desert.
What is to be done, therefore? The West is well-advised not to place itself in a certain camp of the civil war parties. The consequences are unforeseeable and could be bloody. Nothing else remains for them other than to wait until the parties in the civil war are exhausted and look to a solution for a cease-fire, yet the Americans and Europeans have a common interest: taking chemical weapons out of the hands of the Syrians. The enormous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction — from sarin to tabun — don’t only threaten the country and its people, but instead the entire Middle East. Moreover, they could find their way into the possession of al-Qaida or Hezbollah and be deployed as dirty bombs in Boston, Berlin or Bristol.
Getting hold of the chemical weapons becomes difficult and requires military and political initiatives. America and its allies will not be able to get around by bombing some weapons stockpiles in Syria from the air; others would need to be rendered harmless by invading forces that would leave the location immediately after a successful mission. If one is to believe the information of Western secret services, American Special Forces are already practicing such sorties in Jordan.
The Interest of the Russian Government
Besides, the rebels who already have access to chemical weapons should be placed under political pressure; help should only be granted if they are prepared to give up these weapons. The Russian government will similarly have great interest in that. Moscow doesn’t fear anything more at present than an Islamic infiltration of Muslim parts of its country.
With a view to all of the further risks that arise from the Syrian civil war and its stores of chemical weapons, the United States and its allies cannot leave it to Israel alone to do the dirty work and then indict Jerusalem afterwards as well. Right now Iran is closely watching what “red line” the West draws and what it does if this is crossed. Presently it is doing nothing — a folly that could bring grave consequences.