Yesterday, Max Boot criticized the Obama administration for the timing of the designation of the Al Nusra Front as a terrorist group. Timing and coherence is not the Obama administration’s forte: If the Obama administration was a person and had a meeting at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, it would show up promptly at 4 p.m. the following Thursday. I largely agree with Max’s analysis:
On the merits the designation is clearly warranted, given the close links between Al Nusra and Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the administration has dragged its feet for years in designating other terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network even while they were actually killing Americans. The Taliban still hasn’t been so designated. So why rush to designate the Al Nusra Front? Presumably because the administration is planning to confer diplomatic recognition on the Syrian opposition and wants to make clear its disapproval of the jihadist element of the opposition….
I disagree with Max’s implication that the Obama administration should have held off its designation. Max writes, “However justifiable morally, the designation of the Al Nusra Front makes little tactical sense at this moment. From the rebels’ perspective it is simply playing into Assad’s hands without doing anything concrete to bolster the non-jihadist opposition.”
It is certainly true that a significant portion of the Syrian opposition has rallied around the Nusra Front in the wake of its designation, rather than shunned the group as some U.S. policymakers might have hoped. Rather than castigate the White House, it is important to recognize reality: The most effective factions within the Syrian opposition are now radical. Certainly, it didn’t have to be this way, had we only come to the support of the good guys a year and a half ago, before the radicals sank their roots. But, it behooves use to deal with the here and now.
On December 1, there was a suicide bombing in al-Qusayr, near Homs. Here is an excerpt from the Nusra Front’s claim of responsibility:
Praise be to Allah, who granted victory to His soldiers and defeated the parties alone. Peace and prayer be upon His Messenger, Muhammad, after whom there are no other Prophets, and upon his family and his Companions. And thereafter: Thanks to Allah the Almighty, and due to His grace, one of the soldiers of the al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant pounded Sharkas barrier with explosives-laden vehicle in a heroic martyrdom-seeking operation… The al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant promises its people in the city of al-Qusayr more earth shaking operations, Allah permitting, and we say to them: Our blood is sacrificed for yours, and our honor for yours. You will see from us what will please you and cool your chests and frustrate your enemies, Allah willing. This blessed operation is merely the beginning.
Yesterday, 10 Jihadist groups, including the Nusra Front, united in the Islamist hotbed of Deir az-Zour. Here is an excerpt from their press release:
The dawn of jihad has began to emerge on the land of the Levant after its rays were hidden and its fire was extinguished, until Allah dedicated men for it who don’t sleep amidst oppression nor accept humiliation and injustice; rather, they seek death and carry their lives on their palms, seeking nothing other than victory or martyrdom.
Sometimes, if it walks like a terrorist and talks like a terrorist, it is a terrorist. And we shouldn’t allow political considerations to determine the designation. Max is right that politics too long delayed the designation of the Haqqani network, and for that matter prevented the designation of Yasir Arafat’s Fatah in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords. They contributed to Condoleezza Rice’s unconscionable de-listing of North Korea, despite that regime’s support for the Tamil Tigers and Hezbollah, and they have prevented the listing of Pakistan as a state sponsor across administrations. American diplomacy and strategy will remain broken until our officials deal with reality, and if the reality is that the Syrian opposition is no longer what its supporters depict, so be it. Ignoring reality poses an undue risk to U.S. national security.