**Posted by Phineas
The Assad family dictatorship has been pretty darned awful, but the opposition isn’t any better. The al-Nusra front, a major component of the Free Syrian Army that’s fighting to overthrow Assad, is about to be declared a terrorist organization . Given al Nusra’s involvement in the massacre of civilians and their connection to al Qaeda , you can probably see why it would be problematic for us to start giving them lots of weapons.
No problem, though. We can just arm the other rebel groups, and everything will be hunky-dory.
Erm… Well… 
Meanwhile, however, the “new opposition coalition” fighting for Syria , whose unity was solidified in mid-November, isn’t much of a step forward. Its leader is Moaz al-Khatib , a Muslim Brotherhood member with a history of anti-Semitic, anti-Western statements, who has castigated as “revisionists” fellow Muslims (like Alawites) whose beliefs differ on the margins, and who believes that the bombing of Israelis is “evidence of God’s justice.” Al-Khatib admires Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who encourages Muslim nations to acquire nuclear weapons and “terrorize their enemies .” Western media naturally refer to al-Khatib as a “moderate .”
With Al-Nusra and the new opposition coalition duking it out for Syria against Iran and Assad, Greenfield puts it this way: “Syria is coming down to a race between the Iranian allied Syrian government, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.”
Wonderful. At least we have Team Smart Power to sort all this out for us and make the savvy choices, right?
I have no problem with playing the “Great Power” game and working to overthrow Assad, an important client of Iran and patron to Iran’s cat’s-paw, Hizbullah. Taking down the mafiocracy in Damascus would gravely weaken the influence of the mullahs in the area around Israel. They know that, too, which is why they’ve put their elite Revolutionary Guard  corps into Syria’s “internal” war. And, let’s face it, the Iranians have been at war with us since the Shah was overthrown, whether we’ve acknowledged that or not.
But, let’s be smart about it. Giving weapons to those who might turnaround some day and use them on us or our allies would be trading one hot mess for another, all in pursuit of a short-term gain. It may well be that, in light of calm analysis, our options there are limited, that there may only be a very few players we can work with. Fine. Far better be it to play the mediocre hand we’ve got and establish what influence we can with a possible post-Assad regime, than it would be to do the equivalent of drawing four cards and hoping for a straight, which is what shoveling weapons at al Nusrah or the FSA and keeping our fingers crossed would amount to.
That worked so well in Libya, after all.
Patience and restraint (and ignoring that fatuous “Responsibility to Protect”  doctrine liberal internationalists have fallen in love with) here is by far the smartest use of power.
PS: “But what about Iraq?”, some may ask. “Didn’t you support intervening there?” Yep, I did at the time, and I still do. I believe the liberation of Iraq and the destruction of the Hussein regime was the right thing to do, given the totality of the strategic situation. But one of the weaknesses of the operation was our lack of knowledge about the players on the ground, and that lead to mistakes and serious problems during the occupation. Whatever we do in Syria, I’d like us not to suffer from a similar lack of knowledge.
PPS: Be sure to read all of J.E. Dyer’s post, just to see how charming  our potential partners are. Two things to keep in mind: chemical weapons and “bunny snuff videos.”
via The Morning Jolt 
(Crossposted at Public Secrets )