“We need to resist the powerful gravitational pull of another war in the Middle East,” Brimley said.
Brimley was involved in the White House planning for the NATO-led intervention in Libya, and he said he’d watched as the operation began as a humanitarian mission but turned into a campaign to remove then-leader Moammar Gadhafi. In Libya, as in Syria, he said, the United States was working with exiled opposition figures and “when push came to shove, they didn’t have any tactical push on the ground with the rebels.”
Brimley said he agreed with the administration’s decision to take more action in Syria, but he urged caution about the breadth of that assistance, especially when the U.S. partners amount to a “constellation of rebel actors, a constantly shifting mosaic of personalities.”
That’s also an apt description for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which is known for its public infighting and members who resign with great fanfare only to show up at the next meeting. After spending more than a week squabbling, coalition members added about 50 names to their roster in a bid to dilute the Muslim Brotherhood’s domination with a liberal bloc.
However, the members are still deadlocked over picking a leader and forming an interim government, one of the main reasons for a delay in U.S.-Russian plans for a peace conference in Geneva next month. Once hyped as a last-ditch effort for a political transition, the peace conference now looks increasingly unlikely, especially with the new chemical-weapons charges.
Behind the scenes, U.S. officials are exasperated with the coalition members, but very little of the frustration bubbles up publicly. Rhodes, who announced the new assistance, said Thursday that the administration was comfortable working with the opposition coalition, an odd assessment given that U.S. officials told McClatchy only two weeks ago that the State Department was so fed up with the coalition’s lack of progress that it was considering diverting millions of dollars in U.S. funds earmarked for the group.
Of the money that’s been delivered to the opposition, very little has gone to the coalition itself, the officials said.
“It’s obviously been a very unstable organization,” one official said then, requesting anonymity in order to speak freely.
Unless the unarmed opposition gets its act together soon, analysts said, it might find itself sidelined as the Obama administration attaches itself more visibly to the armed wing.
“At best, they’re part of that structure,” said Shaikh, of Brookings Doha. “At worse, they’ll become sort of irrelevant.”
Steven Thomma contributed to this report.