In the Drumbeat for War, Kerry Offers Questionable Analysis of Syrian Opposition

Many are calling Kerry's description of Syrian rebels as "moderate" inaccurate, and a desperate bid to gain support for U.S. military intervention.

In his recent  testimony before Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry has been painting a picture of Syrian rebels that is both at odds with what many intelligence analysts say, and with previous statements Kerry and the Obama Administration have made, Reuters has pointed out. 

While attempting to make the case for President Obama's plans for military intervention during the Senate hearing this week, Kerry asserted that the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution. And the opposition is getting stronger by the day." 

Hmmm. Highly questionable, say other experts.

Both the U.S. and allied intelligence sources (as well as private experts who have been following the developing story of the Syrian civil war) are suggesting that the assessment is rather inaccurate, overly optimistic and, it should be said, manipulative. Many are stating that extremist Islamist groups like the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front are better organized, trained and armed—in spite of being smaller in number. 

Kerry's remarks follow-up Obama's statement, made early last friday, and signal a remarkable shift in tone in the mere two years since the administration vocalized concerns about sending U.S. forces into Syria at the risk of placing the country into Islamists' hands. Since then, the actual potential for danger seems to ebb and flow depending on what works best for Obama's plan of action.

Just two months ago, deputy director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd, estimated that at least 1,200 different rebel groups were active in Syria, and that Islamic extremists were in a position to expand their influence exponentially. He also said the likelihood was that radical elements would take over other larger segments of the opposition. 

Kerry's new assessment has been challenged by various officials around the world, starting with Texas Republican Michael McCaul, who, during a second hearing on Wednesday, asked Kerry, "Who are the rebel forces? Who are they? I ask that in my briefings all the time, and every time…it gets worse and worse, because the majority now of these rebel forces…are radical Islamists pouring in from all over the world."

"In a hard-fought civil war, especially one without a single well-organized opposition movement, success goes to the most ruthless and dedicated elements, which also tend to be the most extreme in their views," said Paul Pillar, one of the country's foremost Middle East analysts, to Reuters. "We are seeing such a process in Syria today."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose relationship with the Obama administration has been strained since he granted sanctuary to Edward Snowden, and because of his cozy relationship with the Assad regime, has also chimed in, calling Kerry a liar. "This is very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to [the Americans] and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad."

Putin's harsh words come hours after it was reported that the seating chart at the G20 Conference has been altered due to strains between Obama and Putin. They are now separated by five chairs instead of two. 

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.

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