Our ally Al-Qaida
Devon Chenelle | Tuesday, September 13, 2016
On July 28, Jabhat al-Nusra, senior partner in the amorphous coalition of rebels fighting the Syrian government, declared its split from parent organization al-Qaida. Though this initially seemed a terrible blow for al-Qaida, the split may not have been as it appeared. Tellingly, al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, said the move was intended to “expose the deception of the international community, namely the U.S. and Russia, in their relentless bombardment and displacement of the Muslim masses of Syria under the pretext of bombing al-Nusra Front,” a reference to the bombing campaigns in Syria by world powers that are justified by their disproportionate targeting of Islamist groups. Furthermore, after the split, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri stated “The brotherhood of Islam is stronger than any organizational links that change and go away.” Afterwards, a grateful al-Julani publicly thanked al-Qaida on al-Jazeera news “for having understood the need to break ties.” This is hardly the talk of two organizations recovering from a fractious divorce.
If one would guess this split is in reality a strategic re-organization, they would be right. Days after the initial announcement, the split’s real motivation became clear when Syrian rebels launched an assault on government-held west Aleppo, al-Nusra’s forces taking a central part. With rebel forces unencumbered, at least officially, by al-Qaida ties, sympathetic Western media and Arab propagandists — particularly al-Jazeera, which is bankrolled by Qatar’s royal family, a supporter of al-Nusra — were free to paint the offensive as a clash between freedom-seeking rebels and an evil president Bashar al-Assad, while Russian jets were restricted from bombing the rebels by fear of American censure because of the offensive’s supposed lack of a radical Islamist force.
As it has since 2011, American material support continues to flow to rebel forces in Syria. More importantly, the American diplomatic and political efforts that provide cover for the rebel groups in Syria’s now extraordinarily international civil war also continue. The intention of these American efforts is, supposedly, to bolster the “moderate opposition” that will someday create a democratic and tolerant Syria. Sadly, the existence of a “Syrian moderate opposition” is a fairy tale, like Jack’s giant beanstalk, heat strokes in 75 degree weather, or George Bush’s Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Frequently these “moderate” groups are thinly veiled frauds, in truth just as radically Islamist as many public enemies of the U.S. Even where they aren’t, moderate groups work so tightly in alliance with al-Qaida-affiliated groups such as al-Nusra that even “secular” and “moderate” groups are effectively inseparable from the Islamists. American support that actually reaches moderates will eventually flow to forces that act as effective associates of al-Qaida.
However, if all American support to Syrian rebels ended tomorrow, our problematic connection with al-Qaida would remain. The lynch-pin of American foreign policy in the Middle-East, aside from Israel, is our alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf statelets that essentially exist as Saudi dependencies. This alliance drives a great deal of American policy in the Middle-East, both through our active obligation to support our allies’ interests and through the effects of these states’ propagandists and suborners having extensive access to America’s foreign policy nerve centers.
Saudi Arabia and its satellites are guilty of an ungodly litany of sins, but worse still, they are guilty of proven transgressions against American interests. A list with only a few such offenses would include these states’ massive support for hardliner Islamist rebels in Syria, a decades-old and massively funded set of programs dedicated to spreading the Wahhabist/Salafist Islam these states share with al-Qaida (and the Islamic State) throughout the Islamic world — especially to peripheral regions whose Islam was traditionally syncretist, pluralist and moderate — and giving huge non-state (a blurry distinction in these royalist aristocracies) support to al-Qaida. For example, the Saudi Binladin Group is as prominent as ever, and is currently under contract to build multibillion dollar towers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Doha, Qatar.
I can think of five tests to classify whether two organizations are in alliance, and the relationship between al-Qaida and the United States fulfills them all. Al-Qaida is a friend of our friends in the Gulf, al-Qaida is an enemy of our enemy (Assad, among others hated by the Gulf monarchies), we are co-belligerents with al-Qaida in a shooting conflict in Syria, we provide material and moral support to groups effectively inseparable from al-Qaida, and we share a common aim (the disestablishment of the Assad regime).
It seems inescapable: Fifteen years and two days from 9/11, the U.S. finds itself in a de facto alliance with al-Qaida. How glad I am for our decades of military adventures and services to our ever-faithful allies in that happy region, the Middle-East.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.