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Of course one reason why President Barack Obama and other Western leaders are staying well on the sidelines in this conflict may be precisely due to the intelligence reports warning that Assad is a far harder nut to crack than previously thought.

Syrian Army forces guard a checkpoint in Damascus in May 2013. Better armed, and better logistical support.(Reuters)

That and the fact that the rebels are no closer to forming a winning, united or even trustworthy insurgency

Stewart, Brian.  “Brian Stewart: Is Syria’s Assad turning the tide of battle?”  CBC News, June 5, 2013.

The news breaking for the past several hours is that Syrian troops with a boost from Hezbollah have gained control of al-Qusayr, a border town associated with arms smuggling from Lebanon and prized for the highway connecting Damascus to Homs.

Last month, Real Clear Politics suggested that “Without stronger U.S. measures, the most likely outcome is the fragmentation of Syria into warring fiefdoms, with some turf controlled by Iran and some by al-Qaeda” (“U.S. policy on Syria still lacks coherence,” May 1, 2013).  As much may be a nightmare come true.

While General Selim Idriss of the Free Syrian Army may be counted on to represent a moderate proto-democratic force, the crowd beneath the umbrella may be too diverse, negatively so, for moving in that one direction.

More than a year ago, the Institute for the Study of War published Joseph Holliday’s Middle East Security Report 3: Syria’s Armed Opposition (March 2012), which notes in its executive summary section the following:

“As the militias continue to face overwhelming regime firepower the likelihood of their radicalization may increase. moreover, the indigenous rebels may turn to al-Qaeda for high-end weaponry and spectacular tactics as the regime’s escalation leaves the rebels with no proportionate response, as occurred in iraq in 2005-2006. Developing relations with armed opposition leaders and recognizing specific rebel organizations may help to deter this dangerous trend.”

As much has come to pass.

This comes from a Reuters filing in mid-May:

“Nusra is now two Nusras. One that is pursuing al Qaeda’s agenda of a greater Islamic nation, and another that is Syrian with a national agenda to help us fight Assad,” said a senior rebel commander in Syria who has close ties to the Nusra Front.

“It is disintegrating from within.”

Today, the black flag of Al Qaeda flies over Raqqa, Syria.

From Al Arabiya:

“Anyone who might have a complaint against any element of the Islamic state, whether the Emir or an ordinary soldier, can come and submit their complaint in any headquarters building of the Islamic state,” the notice stated. “The complaint should be in writing, provide details and give evidence.”

Al-Qaeda then goes on to promise that those who commit transgressions will face justice.

The weird left, from “globalresearch” to “counterpunch” to “infowars” have been having a field day asserting an Obama+Al-Qaeda connection (as much I deduce from the headers alone: “How Obama and Al-Qaeda Became Syrian Bedfellows”; “Obama to Arm Al-Qaeda Terrorists in Syria”.

You can look those up yourself.

I’m only wondering if I need to buy a new olive drab field jacket, say about two sizes up from whatever was in the closet in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In Syria, perhaps signaled by the state’s turnaround in Qusayr, Putin wins this round because, oh honey oh baby Obama, ain’t no one carrying around even a smidgen of the west in less than half a brain wants to hang around with Al Qaeda and its ilk, and it appears those have gotten their hooks into the community of rebel organizations in Syria, General Idriss’s moderate appeal notwithstanding.

*****

Reference

Al Arabiya.  “Al-Qaeda sets up ‘complaints department’ in Syrian city of Raqqa.”  June 3, 2013.

Al Jazeera.  “Syrian army regains strategic city of Qusayr.”  June 5, 2013.

BBC.  “Syrian rebels ‘can fight Hezbollah in Lebanon’ – Idriss.”  June 5, 2013.

Hornik, P. David.  “Showdown in Syria.”  Frontpage Magazine, May 30, 2013.

Karouny, Mariam.  “Insight: Syria’s Nusra Front eclipsed by Iraq-based al Qaeda.”  Reuters, May 17, 2013.

Sly, Liz.  “Islamic law comes to rebel-held Syria.”  The Washington Post, March 19, 2013.  Excerpt:

Building on the reputation they have earned in recent months as the rebellion’s most accomplished fighters, Islamist units are seeking to assert their authority over civilian life, imposing Islamic codes and punishments and administering day-to-day matters such as divorce, marriage and vehicle licensing.

Spencer, Richard.  “Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing takes over the oilfields once belonging to Assad.”  The Telegraph, May 18, 2013.  Excerpt:

Their battlefield supremacy has enabled them to seize the economic as well as the military high-ground.

In Raqqa, they also control flour production, earning money from selling to bakeries, some of which they own as well. “Jabhat now own everything here,” one disillusioned secular activist said.

The Washington Post.  “A grim anniversary: Two years of conflict in Syria.” May 18, 2013.  The video is the same as the YouTube copy posted above this reference section.