Damascus Bureau — At the start of the revolution, one of my friends used to relentlessly repeat that what is happening in Syria is going to be “a long story” and that the worst was yet to come. In his opinion, the world will not offer the rebels any support that might enable them to tip the balance of power in their favour. Once all parties are exhausted it will be easy to enforce a compromise that suites everybody except the Syrians.
I used to argue with him, saying that this does not make any sense: In whose interest would the world allow terrorism and extremism to sneak into new Syria? What good would it do anybody to leave things head towards absolute chaos, making it impossible to contain the situation? Who would be entitled to strike such a deal amidst the chaos caused by the spread of weapons, the increasing strength of armed jihadist groups and the conflicting interests and visions of dozens of parties that support the revolution?
These questions remain unanswered. However, day by day, my friend’s opinion proves to be true. Military councils were formed in order to control armed action according to clear military strategies and rules, and to prevent a catastrophe that might result from the chaotic spread of arms. The aims of these councils also included tying armed struggle to political representation, creating harmony between politics and militarism. But these councils were left without any real support that would enable them to control the combatant units. There was further separation between military and political actions because support has been offered directly to these units and does not go through the political representatives of the revolution. Governments and political groups in the Gulf, among others, took advantage of this situation to offer support to selected rebel battalions outside any recognized framework.
For example, Qatar unilaterally offers support to rebel units without resorting to any real coordination with either the Syrian National Council or the National Coalition, which was formed afterwards and was supposed to represent the Syrian revolution.
Because of this, there has been no political or military body that could influence the combatants, whether it has to do with their conduct or applying military strategies. Whenever we experience bad conduct from the part of opposition military units on the ground – this behaviour resembles that of the regime shabbiha — we find that the heads of military councils are unable to influence any battalion or even a single fighter; only those who can offer ammunitions and financial support can have such an influence. Even armed groups that refuse to engage in acts of intimidation and robbery find themselves obliged to violate civilians’ private property, because financers have left them without adequate resources.
The West, on the other hand, claims that it is not offering support to military councils because out of fear that it would reach those who do not deserve it. In reality, extremist groups provide their own resources; they might be the units that do not rely on others for support. And the battalions that act like shabbiha continue to engage in looting and do not face any shortage in financing. At the end, extremist and undisciplined battalions gain power at the expense of those that are committed to stay on the real path of the revolution and refuse to engage in acts of intimidation, robbery or kidnap. And they are unable to confront such acts because they are the weakest link.
Whenever Western diplomats are asked about supporting rebel groups, they pathetically claim that they do not know to whom the aid should go. On several occasions, diplomats have asked to communicate directly with combatant battalions! Why, then, were the National Coalition and military councils formed if everybody wants to bypass them? A better question might even be, why insist on keeping the military councils weak and without any real influence on the revolution if this situation serves extremism as well as ‘uncreative’ chaos?
Instead of resorting to ridiculous measures such as listing Jabhat Al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, fighting terrorism and extremism should be done through a straightforward and public decision to support the military wing of the revolution. It should be done through institutional channels, the National Coalition and the military councils.
With or without support, the revolution will carry on. The only difference is that one day, in order to keep the revolution on its right track, the world will find itself obliged to do what it refuses to do today. But the saying “better late than never” is not right; sometimes it is indeed too late.