While the liberal media predictably focus on the domestic political ramifications for President Obama as regards his strange and ever-evolving policy on Syria, the real story worth reporting is how Obama may actually be strengthening Bashar Assad's hand, even making him "a national hero" who can not only survive but thrive as a result.
In her September 12 front-page story "Syrian Rebels Hurt By Delay," The Wall Street Journal's Nour Malas has an excellent story to that effect. Filing from Istanbul, she quotes Mohammmed al-Daher, "a commander in the rebels' Western backed Free Syria Army" as lamenting that he "wouldn't be surprised if the end result of these negotiations is that [Assad] remains as president and beyond that, turns into a national hero who saved his country." Malas continued (emphasis mine):
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The U.S. effort to arm rebels, authorized by Mr. Obama in June, appeared to have taken a step forward on Wednesday. The U.S. has started providing some arms to the Free Syrian Army, according to Khalid Saleh, spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Mr. Saleh declined to provide details.
U.S. officials said the program was delayed by initial objections from U.S. lawmakers and the difficulty of establishing secure pipelines to deliver arms to moderate fighters. The White House and the Central Intelligence Agency, which runs the arming program, declined to comment on reports that the first weapons had arrived.
The delay of a U.S. military strike gave congressional supporters a new opportunity to promote their cause. But the diplomatic maneuvering—and its offer of a possible way out for Mr. Assad—came as yet another disappointment for rebels in Syria.
Rebels based in the Damascus suburbs, counting on the U.S., had already adjusted their battle plans. Anticipating American airstrikes that in their view could help neutralize Mr. Assad's air force, the rebels plotted to follow with an assault on the Syrian capital that, they hoped, would crack the regime, according to these rebels.
Those expectations—as with other rebel hopes for game-changing U.S. intervention over the course of the 2½-year conflict—appear to have been unrealistic. Mr. Obama raised the idea of U.S. military action as a way to punish the Assad government for using chemical weapons—not to help the rebels in the battle on the ground.
U.S. military officials said the threat of a U.S. attack did affect the battle. The officials said they had seen some retreat in recent weeks by Mr. Assad's forces, moving from attacking positions to bunkers to shelter from a potential bombing campaign. As a result, the regime had been in less of a position to strike rebel positions, particularly around the city of Aleppo, the officials said.
But reports of new attacks this week by the Assad regime suggest the tide shifted as the threat of an immediate American attack receded.
The delay also benefits rebel extremists, Western-backed rebels said.
When the option of U.S. strikes emerged following the chemical-weapons attack on Aug. 21, al Qaeda-linked extremists and allied foreign jihadists in the opposition's largest foothold in northern Syria, fearing they could also be targets, went into hiding.
Free Syrian Army rebels said they believed the extremists re-emerged as emboldened and more-mobile guerrilla fighters.
The presence and strength of the extremists makes it harder for moderates to convince the West that Assad's defeat wouldn't turn Syria into a rogue nation dominated by terrorists. That concern also slows outside help, moderates say, as extremists sow Western doubts over the views and aims of the rebel movement.
"The jihadists benefit in all the chaos," said Samir Nachar, a Syrian Opposition Coalition member opposed to the rebel extremists. "They gain as the moderates waffle about waiting for the rest of the world."
The latest promise of intervention wasn't the first time the Syrian Opposition Coalition and its allied rebel forces adjusted their strategy in anticipation of U.S. aid. The Free Syrian Army regrouped and changed its leadership structure several times since the start of the civil war with the belief, rebel officials said, that by following a model encouraged by the West they could cleanse their ranks of extremists and guarantee a more consistent flow of funds and, eventually, arms.
Supreme Military Council leader Brig. Gen. Salim Idriss and other council members said support so far has been inadequate. U.S. officials said rebels had unfounded expectations and often misinterpreted their statements and actions.
Kudos to Malas (pictured above via her Twitter profile) for her report and to the Wall Street Journal for placing this on today's front page.