Tony Karon writes: Syria’s new opposition leadership structure announced in Qatar on Sunday could mark a turning point in the stalemated 20-month old rebellion against the Assad regime. But it could just as easily prove to be another chimerical Western attempt to stand up a friendly regime for an Arab country in transition. That’s because the impetus for the new National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition has come from foreign powers rather than from the grassroots of the rebellion, and its authority on the ground, particularly with the hundreds of autonomous militia groups, is more of an aspiration than an established fact at this stage.
“It’s obviously a great step forward for the West and the Syrian opposition,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma. “This group has great purchase among upper-class urban Sunnis, particularly those who have spent a lot of time in the West. But the key question will be whether or not it is able to unify rebel military groups on the ground, which haven’t been particularly involved in this process.”
The National Coalition is a product of Western and Arab backers — exasperated by the failure of their previous favorite, the Syrian National Council, to overcome crippling factional disputes, much less establish any traction on the ground — twisting the arms of exile-based opposition groups to accept a new, more representative leadership structure as the condition for continued foreign backing. The Gulf Cooperation Council, representing Saudi Arabia, Qatar and four of their neighbors, on Monday recognized the new group as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” The new opposition group, which includes leadership spots reserved for minorities and for representatives of provincial revolutionary committees on the ground, expects immediate recognition as the legitimate government of Syria, and also military assistance to rebel fighters. But before the U.S. and other Western powers follow the lead of the Saudis and Qataris, they may expect the new group to provide credible evidence of its authority on the ground. And that may be the tricky part of the second phase of the plan to reorganize the Syrian opposition. [Continue reading…]