Struggling to define the Syrian opposition
Riyad Hijab speaking in Quneitra, Syria in November 2008
August 13th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

Struggling to define the Syrian opposition

By Elise Labott

In the weeks before he defected from Syria, then-Prime Minister Riad Hijab put feelers out to contacts in the United States and other governments.

In addition to ensuring his family got out of the country, Hijab wanted guarantees that he would not be persecuted for his role in the government of President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. officials say.

"He wanted assurances from the opposition that a post-Assad Syria will take into account all Syrians, including minorities, and there will not be revenge attacks on those who at one time supported the regime," one administration official said. The official described Washington's role as that of a "middleman."

The United States was able to produce a chorus of voices from the Syrian opposition promising that Syrians planning for a post-Assad transition are committed to ensuring human rights for all Syrians, including minorities. But that's far from a guarantee for Hijab or for any defector.

Herein lies the problem with Syrian opposition. Although American officials have sought to broaden its outreach within the Syrian opposition, Washington hasn't been able to identify a group of Syrians inside the country that U.S. officials believe will be calling the shots the day after the regime falls.

There is a grassroots political opposition with viable political structures on the ground in Syria. Revolutionary councils and Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) are organizing civil resistance and coordinating with the country's armed opposition.

In some areas, the opposition serves as de-facto local governments by providing services to the Syrian people. Yet more than a year and a half  into the conflict, there is precious little harmonization between these groups and the Syrian National Council, the primary organization interfacing with the international community, which is made up of expats and which is roundly criticized inside the country as a bunch of dilettantes.

It has been difficult to connect with Syria's indigenous political opposition since the U.S. closed its embassy and withdrew its personnel in February. But in recent months, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has led U.S. efforts to step up those contacts.

Ford and Fred Hoff, the administration's coordinator for Syria, have traveled the globe meeting with Syrians. Using Skype and other communication technologies, they've sought to maintain ties inside Syria with "technocrats," the professional class currently inside the country or who have recently left. This key group has both on-the-ground experience and the authority to pick up running the government during the transition.

For weeks last month Ford was holed up in Cairo with members of the opposition, working with them to put flesh on the bones of a transition plan for a post-al-Assad Syria announced last month. The opposition is soon expected to announce specific names that will be in charge of various tasks related to the transition in the event al-Assad falls.

The effort involves a cross-section of Syrians from within the country, including tribunal leaders and members of the minority Christian, Druze and Allawite communities.

"There is an extremely active connection between the Syria on the inside and the outside," one senior official said. "A tremendous amount of back and forth. People are coming in and out all the time."

Still, officials and diplomats involved in efforts to organize Syria's political opposition acknowledge that any transition plan hatched outside Syria's borders will be a hard sell to those risking their lives every day of the revolution.

"We've made clear to the opposition they need to go back and socialize these ideas and plans to folks inside Syria," another official said. "There is definitely not as much of that as we would like."

Until now, the Obama administration has focused much of its assistance on non-lethal aid for the political opposition, working through the Friends of Syria group, providing medical and humanitarian aid and working to unify opposition groups. This includes providing equipment and training to students, journalists and civil society organizations to help them strengthen institutions which could take part in a post-al-Assad Syria

Only recently, through a covert presidential order, has the administration begun to provide intelligence and help allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar vet groups to see which are extremists and which are worthy of receiving arms. Officials say don't see the shape of American assistance changing anytime soon.

"The whole idea of doing anything more is not on the table," one senior official told me of the possibility of military aid. "Our sole job as of now is to plan for the day after."

In Turkey this past weekend, CNN's Ivan Watson reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Syrian opposition activists, asking them about those still inside the country.

"She wanted to know who the U.S. should give money to, and who they should not give money to," one activist told Watson.

The refusal of the U.S. to increase its aid to the armed opposition, which could give it a fighting chance against al-Assad's forces, begs the question of whether the United States is truly ready for the "day after" to be tomorrow. Some officials in the administration argue Ambassador Ford must make further progress with the opposition before the U.S. intensifies its aid to the FSA beyond the current non-lethal package.

Part of that progress is ensuring Syria's new rulers refrain from retribution against the military, government officials and regime loyalists. The administration is being careful not to repeat the mistakes of Iraq, where transition planning centered on working with a bunch of expats in the Iraqi National Congress who never made it to Baghdad. A security vacuum and collapse of the government after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein led to chaos and paved the way for an insurgency which lasted for years to come.

Officials now say the United States wants a "soft landing" that keeps institutions intact.

"We want the bloodshed to end but it needs to end apace with political developments," another official said. "So when Assad goes, there is not more bloodshed."

The University of Oklahoma's Josh Landis, who runs the blog "Syria Comment," warns that U.S. reluctance to arm the opposition puts it at a disadvantage in helping shape the post-al-Assad climate.

Landis points to a climate where complete lack of unity within the opposition has helped al-Assad take advantage of the civil war to live another day. Reports currently suggest as many as one hundred militias or more are operating throughout Syria, rarely coordinating among each other, similar to the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s.

If Syria is left in ruins after a protracted sectarian conflict, Landis predicts the idea of Syria rising out of the ashes with expatriates imposing rule of law will seem very farfetched.

"Ultimately the ones who win this will be the guys with the guns," Landis predicts. "They will have the power and will make Syria in their own image. They aren't going to fly in a bunch of doctors and lawyers and engineers in to tell them how to share the wealth."

Secretary of State Clinton has used the frustration with the opposition as one of the biggest reasons for not providing it more support.

By helping to better connect its disparate actors, Washington would lose its best excuse not to wade further into the conflict in Syria. But in doing so, it would find its most credible candidates for not only ending the conflict, but undertaking a transition once they do.

soundoff (669 Responses)
  1. Commercial Van Repair

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this web site needs far more attention. Iíll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the information!

    June 30, 2021 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  2. RV Repairs Near My Location

    June 30, 2021 at 10:38 am | Reply
  3. RV Repair Seal Beach

    Very good article. I certainly love this website. Thanks!

    June 30, 2021 at 8:41 am | Reply
  4. Service A Mercedes Sprinter

    June 30, 2021 at 7:59 am | Reply
  5. Rv Repair Shop Near Me

    I was excited to find this site. I need to to thank you for your time due to this fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every little bit of it and i also have you book marked to look at new things in your site.

    June 30, 2021 at 4:12 am | Reply
  6. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    There is certainly a great deal to know about this issue. I love all the points you have made.

    June 30, 2021 at 3:21 am | Reply
  7. Release Clip Repair On Mercedes Sprinter Seat

    Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to produce a superb articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I put things off a lot and never manage to get anything done.

    June 30, 2021 at 2:41 am | Reply
  8. Conversion Van Repair Shop Near Me

    June 29, 2021 at 8:47 pm | Reply
  9. Camper Repair Places Near Me

    June 29, 2021 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  10. Mercedes Sprinter Service Center Near Me

    June 29, 2021 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  11. Vanlife Repair Costs For Mercedes Sprinter

    After I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment. Is there a means you can remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

    June 29, 2021 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  12. RV Repair California

    Good post. I will be experiencing some of these issues as well..

    June 29, 2021 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  13. Sprinter Repair Near Me

    June 29, 2021 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  14. RV Repair Shop Near My Location

    June 29, 2021 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  15. RV Repair Mission Viejo

    June 29, 2021 at 11:28 am | Reply
  16. RV Repair California

    You're so cool! I do not believe I have read something like this before. So good to find another person with a few unique thoughts on this subject. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site is something that is required on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

    June 29, 2021 at 10:38 am | Reply
  17. Touring Van Repair

    I love it when individuals come together and share thoughts. Great blog, keep it up!

    June 29, 2021 at 9:38 am | Reply
  18. RV Repair Fountain Valley

    June 29, 2021 at 7:52 am | Reply
  19. Nercedes Sprinter Repair Near Me

    I needed to thank you for this wonderful read!! I certainly loved every bit of it. I have you book marked to look at new stuff you postÖ

    June 29, 2021 at 7:04 am | Reply
  20. RV Repair Orange County

    I'd like to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this website. I really hope to check out the same high-grade content from you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own website now 😉

    June 29, 2021 at 6:10 am | Reply
  21. Promaster Van Conversion

    June 29, 2021 at 2:27 am | Reply
  22. Mercedes Sprinter Service Near Me

    June 29, 2021 at 1:55 am | Reply
  23. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    June 29, 2021 at 1:35 am | Reply
  24. Coachmen Van Repair

    Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the issues. It was really informative. Your website is very useful. Many thanks for sharing!

    June 28, 2021 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  25. RV Repair Shops Near Me

    bookmarked!!, I love your site!

    June 28, 2021 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  26. Los Angeles Sprinter Repair

    Everything is very open with a very clear description of the challenges. It was really informative. Your site is very useful. Thank you for sharing!

    June 28, 2021 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  27. RV Repair Places Near Me

    June 28, 2021 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  28. Sprinter Van Upholstery

    Hi, I do believe this is a great site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to come back once again since I book marked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.

    June 28, 2021 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  29. RV Repair Shops Nearby

    June 28, 2021 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  30. Sprinter Repair Costa Mesa

    Hello, There's no doubt that your website could be having web browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine however, if opening in I.E., it's got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Besides that, great blog!

    June 28, 2021 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  31. Mercedes Benz Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    Your style is very unique compared to other people I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just bookmark this site.

    June 28, 2021 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  32. Nearby RV Repair

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn't disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, however I genuinely believed you'd have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something you could fix if you weren't too busy looking for attention.

    June 28, 2021 at 11:22 am | Reply
  33. Nearby RV Repair

    June 28, 2021 at 8:36 am | Reply
  34. RV Repair

    Great info. Lucky me I found your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I've book-marked it for later!

    June 28, 2021 at 8:13 am | Reply
  35. Camper Repair Places Near Me

    June 28, 2021 at 7:34 am | Reply
  36. RV Repair Garden Grove

    June 28, 2021 at 12:08 am | Reply
  37. RV Repair Orange County

    Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!

    June 27, 2021 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  38. RV Repair Shops Near Me Now

    I truly love your website.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you make this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as Iím wanting to create my own site and would like to know where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Thank you!

    June 27, 2021 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  39. 2012 Mercedez Benz Sprinter Repair

    June 27, 2021 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  40. RV Repair

    Great article! We will be linking to this great post on our site. Keep up the good writing.

    June 27, 2021 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  41. Situational Leadership Model

    June 27, 2021 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  42. Groups Leadership

    June 27, 2021 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  43. What Does Leadership Mean

    Good day! I just wish to give you a big thumbs up for your great info you have right here on this post. I will be returning to your website for more soon.

    June 27, 2021 at 11:34 am | Reply
  44. Leadership Consulting

    June 27, 2021 at 8:31 am | Reply
  45. Healthcare Leadership

    June 27, 2021 at 5:54 am | Reply
  46. Quotes On Leadership

    June 27, 2021 at 5:15 am | Reply
  47. Servant Leadership Theory

    June 27, 2021 at 4:47 am | Reply
  48. dan patrick show podcast

    June 27, 2021 at 4:07 am | Reply
  49. undisputed fs1 podcast

    June 27, 2021 at 3:31 am | Reply
  50. Toxic Leadership

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be interesting to read articles from other writers and use something from other websites.

    June 27, 2021 at 2:31 am | Reply
  51. Leadership Icon

    When I initially commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be an easy method you can remove me from that service? Appreciate it!

    June 27, 2021 at 2:26 am | Reply
  52. unresolved podcast

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Thank you for providing this information.

    June 27, 2021 at 12:18 am | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.