Syrian Rebels: What the US Withdrawl of Aid Means – RantAWeek
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Syrian Rebels: What the US Withdrawl of Aid Means

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Posted by mjdudak on December 15, 2013 at 6:45 pm

When it comes to US foreign policy, generally we go one of two directions to exercise influence: huge gobs of money, or our huge military. However, due to our drawn-out engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Americans are increasingly weary of military use, and so we turn to our monetary influence. This past week in Syria, some Islamist rebels captured key rebel warehouses which acted as the foreign aid intake and processing facilities. So, in response to this instability, the US cut our monetary influence to the rebels, ending all nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels. Without this aid, the rebels will be scrambling to take all necessary steps to get the aid back. With a civil war which has waged on for almost three years and has taken the lives of over 120,000 people, the cutting of this nonlethal aid could diminish any advantages the rebels have gained; after all, if they are unable to feed themselves, they will be unable to fight. So, in response to the cutting of aid, the rebels will naturally scramble to form a more moderate, all-inclusive and Western-backed coalition, meaning that the aid cutoff will have short term detrimental effects, in the long term it may expedite the end of the civil war.

To understand this point of view, it is important to first look at how weak the rebels are without the backing of the West. The obvious dependencies are on aid; rebels depend on the West for arms and basic necessities alike. The Syrian people as a whole also depend on the goodwill of the West to ensure that refugees in countries like Turkey can at least live (although certainly not comfortably). But beyond the obvious, the rebels are dependent on the West to represent them diplomatically. Understanding why will require a slight detour into an explanation of the actual makeup of the rebels.

When looking at other civil wars, they are certainly never clean wars; in civil war, determining loyalty is often a very messy process. However, the situation in Syria is considerably worse. The Syrian rebels are fighting from a diverse set of backgrounds, for a number of different goals. Sure, there are “rebel leaders” who the West officially recognizes to have control over some number of people, but many rebels are fighting in small packs with a single leader, but ultimately not looking for direction from some higher up. Throw in the presence of al-Qaeda, and the situation is increasingly messy. A large part of the reason the US has tried to keep its hands clean of the whole situation is simply that we have no idea who to help and who not to help. The entire rebel force is essentially leaderless, and even the “leaders” have very little sway among large swaths of the rebel forces. This not only creates a complicated situation, it also creates a weak force.

The culmination of this weak force was seen when Syrian President Bashir al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. The rebel forces, while they condemned this use of force, really could not do anything to stop it. It was not until the US an Russia brokered a deal to get the weapons out of Assad’s hands that the situation was able to be dealt with. Sure, everyone knew that Assad had violated international law, but without the rebel forces having organization, they were unable to truly do anything about it. This lack of organization has forced the rebels to be dependent on the West for basically everything.

So, with this dependence on the West, which is being weaned, and a lack of organization, where do the rebels go from here? Rather than let the infighting between Free Syrian Army (the group that had previously controlled the warehouses) and the Islamic Front (the group which gained control of the warehouses) continue, the rebels have to find a balance between the two. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is already Western-backed, but there was a fear for a long time that if they incorporate the Islamic Front (IF), they would lose Western backing because countries like the US generally are against Islamism. But, in an unprecedented move, the US recently announced that they would be open to the IF being folded into the FSA, striking a balance between moderate secularism and Islamism. The FSA would be wise to heed this advice. If the FSA and the IF can combine their efforts, then hopefully the West will be back on board with aid, and eventually the rebels will be successful in their endeavors to overthrow Assad. If the efforts are combined effectively, Syria may be able to become what has, up until this point, only existed as an oxymoron: a stable Middle Eastern democracy.

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