'In December, Secretary of State John F. Kerry stated that “Syrians should not have to choose between a tyrant and the terrorists.” There was, Kerry declared, a third option: “the moderate Syrian opposition who are fighting both extremists and [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad every day.” Unfortunately, this commendable view has broken down because the United States has defined the term “moderate” in such a narrow and arbitrary fashion that it excludes the bulk of the mainstream opposition.
The group to which I belong, Ahrar al-Sham, is one example. Our name means “Free Men of Syria.” We consider ourselves a mainstream Sunni Islamic group that is led by Syrians and fights for Syrians. We are fighting for justice for the Syrian people. Yet we have been falsely accused of having organizational links to al-Qaeda and of espousing al-Qaeda’s ideology.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that Syria needs a national unifying project that cannot be controlled or delivered by a single party or group and should not be bound to a single ideology. We believe in striking a balance that respects the legitimate aspirations of the majority as well as protects minority communities and enables them to play a real and positive role in Syria’s future. We believe in a moderate future for Syria that preserves the state and institutes reforms that benefit all Syrians.
Stuck inside their own bubble, White House policymakers have allocated millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to support failed CIA efforts to support so-called “moderate” forces in Syria. But these “moderate” groups have proved to be a disappointment on nearly every count, not least of all in confronting the Islamic State. Further, the self-defeating policy of regarding the war against the Islamic State as being fundamentally different from, and in some cases diametrically opposed to, efforts to remove Assad from power has brought no end to either battle.
Despite a disappointing lack of genuine engagement from the international community, we remain committed to dialogue. The issues that need to be discussed are how to end Assad’s reign, how to defeat the Islamic State and how to ensure that a stable and representative government in Damascus puts Syria on the path to peace, reconciliation and economic recovery while avoiding the disintegration of the state. It is not too late for the United States to change course. Kerry’s “third option” exists — but only if Washington is willing to open its eyes and see it.'