Is American diplomacy an oxymoron?
The Syrian opposition has been notoriously fractured, so the goal of forging unity among what have hitherto been disparate groups clearly makes sense. What makes no sense but should be no surprise is Washington’s typical heavy-handedness in trying to achieve this goal.
An upcoming Qatar meeting “will include dozens of opposition leaders from inside Syria, including from the provincial revolutionary councils, the local ‘coordination committees’ of activists, and select people from the newly established local administrative councils.” So far so good. But then comes this message from a senior Obama administration official:
“We need to be clear: This is what the Americans support, and if you want to work with us you are going to work with this plan and you’re going to do this now,” the official said. “We aren’t going to waste anymore time. The situation is worsening. We need to do this now.”
Stand to attention and follow our instructions because America is running out of patience.
Is that the kind of admonition that’s going to smooth out all the discord? I don’t think so. What it is, is the imperial American way.
Foreign Policy‘s blog, The Cable, reports: Syrian opposition leaders of all stripes will convene in Qatar next week to form a new leadership body to subsume the opposition Syrian National Council, which is widely viewed as ineffective, consumed by infighting, and little respected on the ground, The Cable has learned.
The State Department has been heavily involved in crafting the new council as part of its effort oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and build a more viable and unified opposition. In September, for instance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with a group of Syrian activists who were flown in to New York for a high-level meeting that has not been reported until now.
During the third and final presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama’s Syria policy as a failure to show “leadership” in laying the groundwork for the post-Assad era and called for “a form of council that can take the lead in Syria.”
In fact, over the last several months, according to U.S. officials and Syrian opposition figures, the State Department has worked to broaden its contacts inside the country, meeting with military commanders and representatives of local governance councils in a bid to bypass the fractious SNC.
Many in the SNC are accordingly frustrated with the level of support they’ve gotten in Washington. “The Obama administration is trying to systematically undermine the SNC. It’s very unfortunate,” one SNC leader said told The Cable.
But U.S. officials are equally frustrated with an SNC they say has failed to attract broad support, particularly from the Alawite and Kurdish minorities. The new council is an attempt to change that dynamic. Dozens of Syrian leaders will meet in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Nov. 3 and hope to announce the new council as the legitimate representative of all the major Syrian opposition factions on Nov. 7, one day after the U.S. presidential election.
The Obama administration sees the new council as a potential interim government that could negotiate with both the international community and – down the line – perhaps also the Syrian regime. The SNC will have a minority stake in the new body, but some opposition leaders are still skeptical that the effort will succeed.
The U.S. needs to clean up its own mess in its own government before it should take it upon itself to design what other countries should look like.