Obama Needs Help From Islamic Front For Diplomacy To Succeed in Syria


Credit: Voice of America News: Scott Bobb reports from Aleppo, Syria

A recent op-ed by Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, who advocated for increased U.S. intervention in Syria back in March, highlights an uncomfortable reality relating to the Obama administration's policy on Syria:

For the Obama administration's diplomacy to succeed, it now needs help from an armed group with the unpromising name of the Islamic Front.

The Islamic front has been the subject of increased attention recently. Last week, it was reported that the U.S and the U.K. were suspending their aid to rebels in northern Syria after members of the Islamic Front captured bases held by the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group backed by the U.S.

In the wake of the news that the Islamic Front were expanding their foothold in northern Syria stories emerged that the Free Syrian Army's Gen. Salim Idris had fled Syria. Idris has denied the reports, saying that he moved to an office on the Turkish border.

McManus quotes  Andrew J. Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who characterized the Islamic Front as "Salafists but not extremists." However, while the Islamic Front may not be directly linked to Al Qaeda-linked groups, the BBC reports that they are open to working with them.

If, as McManus says, the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts in Syria will rely on help from the Islamic Front, it is another sign that the U.S. should be less involved in the Syrian conflict given their desire to establish an Islamic state in a post-Assad Syria. 

Regardless of what policy the Obama administration decides to pursue, it is unlikely that the Saudis are going to stop sending lethal military aid to Assad's opposition, including groups like the Islamic Front. Over at The Daily Beast, Jamie Dettmer has written about the worrying groups being helped by the Saudis and the number of Saudis who have traveled to Syria to take part in the conflict. Dettmer also quoted an unnamed American intelligence official, who said that Saudi involvement in the Syrian conflict could result in Afghanistan-like blowback:

The Saudis are in jeopardy of repeating history, says an American intelligence official who declined to be named for the article. "There was blowback for the Saudis from jihadists fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s and that could happen again."

As horrific as the situation in Syria is, the reality is that it remains a bad environment for increased U.S. intervention. McManus points out that the Obama administration's most likely policy, which will reduce the risk of direct U.S. military involvement, will not end the suffering and the dangers posed by "jihadist mini-armies" in Syria.