In the deserts of the Middle East, political mirages appear easily and disappear just as easily. There are countries and armies that exist only on paper. And there are invisible tribal nations that have no flag and never appear on a map, but that have their own militias and govern themselves.
The Middle East as it exists neatly laid out in the pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post has little relationship to the messy realities of a region with few clean borders, only messy collections of tribes, families, ethnic groups and quarreling variations of Islam clinging to a few miles of dusty land, a handful of olive groves, some oil wells and their children and machine guns.
Out in Syria, the mirage of the Free Syrian Army, its camps full of soldiers defecting from the military to form a secular liberation force, has dissipated, vanishing into the sand. And all it took to knock down the Potemkin villages of the FSA that never existed was an attack on the only part of the Free Syrian Army that did exist—its warehouses full of American and European military aid.
The Free Syrian Army never existed. What did exist was neither free, nor Syrian, nor an army. The FSA was sold as an army of Syrian soldiers who had banded together under defecting officers to fight against the Assad government. The real FSA mostly consisted of Islamic brigades, indistinguishable for the most part from the other Salafist brigades in the war. Some of these brigades were affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood whose local allies, Turkey and Qatar, were the war’s biggest backers.
Perhaps even the war’s inventors.
And yet even this FSA, the one that was later being described as a collection of “moderate” Islamic militias, was just as much of an illusion. Like the attempt to draw lines around tribal encampments and call the whole thing a country, the Free Syrian Army was really a collection of militias with little in the way of an organizing structure except a willingness to identify casually with the FSA in the hopes of scoring some loot from those warehouses of American aid … and the promised American air support.
The units in the Free Syrian Army were not monogamous. They operated with the Al Nusra Front, one of the Al Qaeda groups in Syria, and any of the wannabe Caliphs and Emirs of the other Islamist militias. Their commanders and their men were out for themselves, switching team alliances as easily as reality show contestants, but with much bloodier results.
The FSA’s real purpose was to fool America by propping up a fake military for the real governments that were assembled by the Muslim Brotherhood’s activists in places like Doha and Istanbul. These interim “governments” won official recognition and received money and weapons that they could distribute to the Islamist militias in exchange for their support. Once Assad was defeated, their internationally recognized ”government” representing the patchwork of militia-controlled territories would be able to stage phony elections and control the billions in foreign aid which would be donated to rebuild Syria.
The FSA con existed for and depended on American support. Without American weapons and American military intervention, the Free Syrian Army no longer had a reason to exist.
And the air support and weapons weren’t coming.
Benghazi had made the United States nervous and the secret negotiations with Iran were overriding the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda in Syria. When Russia pressured Obama and Kerry into the Syrian chemical weapons deal, any hope of American military intervention in Syria ended.
And so did the Free Syrian Army.
Some of the militias that had been pretending to be the FSA joined other Islamist alliances. And those Islamist alliances went after the only real asset that the FSA had; its trucks and warehouses of foreign aid. The FSA’s warehouses full of foreign aid fell to the Islamic Front with only five casualties. Its leader, General Salim Idriss, fled to his masters in Turkey and Qatar.
Shortly thereafter a correction was issued.
General Idriss had never fled Syria because he hadn’t been in Syria. Idriss, who commands nothing except the attention of gullible Westerners, sets foot in Syria when he needs to accompany a VIP like Senator McCain for some photo ops. Idriss’s Islamist “deputies,” who command actual militias, have power. Their job is to fight the actual war. Idriss’s job is to tell American senators that if the imaginary moderate legions of the Free Syrian Army don’t receive more American aid, then Al Qaeda will win.
Unfortunately quite a few of his men actually are Al Qaeda. The rest make very poor warehouse guards.
In the wake of the warehouse debacle, the media is echoing the same warnings that if we don’t throw our weight behind the FSA, then Al Qaeda will win. But Al Qaeda has already won. And lost.
Al Qaeda dominates the Sunni opposition. Its foreign fighters have the best weapons and gear. The media tells us this all the time … but never bothers explaining where the weapons and gear come from.
They come from the same countries that are warning us that we must support the Free Syrian Army.
Al Qaeda’s arms dealers are warning us to arm the Free Syrian Army or Al Qaeda will win. But if they really didn’t want Al Qaeda to win, they wouldn’t be arming it. Al Qaeda in Pakistan or Mali isn’t nearly as well equipped as it is in Syria. They were arming Al Qaeda while setting up the Free Syrian Army as the moderate opposition so that we would be dragged into the war and overthrow Assad for them.
They had every reason to expect the plan to work. It worked in Libya.
But now the plan is shot to hell. The United States isn’t joining the war. The Shiite axis has thrown enough resources into Syria that it’s likely to win. Qatar and Turkey are facing a backlash in Sunni countries like Egypt where their Arab Spring plots failed to hand over rule to the Muslim Brotherhood.
As long as the United States keeps sending some foreign aid, the FSA scam will be kept alive. But the scam will consist of warehouses with a handful of men paid with proceeds from the sale of that foreign aid. And those warehouses will fall the moment that ISIS or the Al Nusra Front or the Islamic Front or anyone with enough fighters and guns rolls up in their dusty Japanese pickup trucks and takes it all.
The scam is over. So is the Free Syrian Army.
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