In late October 2012, the United States began altering its course regarding support for opposition forces in Syria. Civil war has wracked Syria since spring 2011 when rebels began seeking the overthrow of dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has been in power since 2000. Assad has responded with a brutal attack on protesters that, to date, has killed an estimated 30,000 Syrians.
The U.S. has been working with the Syrian National Council (SNC) to help coordinate opposition efforts within Syria. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have indicated that help is in the form of organizational expertise and communications. There is no word on whether the U.S. is sending arms or military expertise into Syria.
Election Debate Topic
In the final presidential debate of 2012, which dealt with foreign policy, Republican challenger Mitt Romney endorsed the Obama administrations' efforts to help organize Syrian opposition groups. Both agreed, however, that the measure was tricky. If any help extends to arms, the U.S. must be sure they get into the right hands, and that they will not later be used against Americans.
Such a situation occurred after the U.S. helped outfit Afghan rebels in the wake of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. Of course, many of those rebels under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden later turned against the U.S.
Change In Tactics
Now Clinton is suggesting that the U.S. needs to more effectively tailor the group that is its liaison with Syrian opposition.
At an October 31 press conference during a trip to Croatia, Clinton told reporters that the SNC (if it retains that name) needs to be very representative of the opposition inside Syria.
"This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30, or 40 years," Clinton said. "There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom."
She continued, "there needs to be an opposition leadership structure that is dedicated to representing and protecting all Syrians. It is not a secret that many inside Syria are worried about what comes next. They have no love lost for the Assad regime, but they worry, rightly so, about the future. And so there needs to be an opposition that can speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria."
As far as opposition allies who could later turn on the U.S., Clinton said, "we also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution. There are disturbing reports of extremists going into Syria and attempting to take over what has been a legitimate revolution against a repressive regime for their own purposes."
Clinton revealed that the U.S. actively began the process of tailoring its liaison group in September 2012 during the New York meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). "We facilitated the smuggling-out of a few representatives of the Syrian internal opposition in order for them to explain to the countries gathered why they must be at the table," said. That move insured that elements from inside Syria were in on the process.
Meanwhile, talks began in Doha, Qatar, that included SNC, U.S., and other negotiators seeking an end to the Syrian violence. At a press conference on November 5, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland indicated that the SNC is indeed embracing more members. While she said she did not know the exact makeup of membership, it has expanded from 200 to 420 people. The Doha meeting was to continue November 7.