The moderate Syrian rebels, like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, are a myth; an imaginary character used to tell soothing stories to children. Unfortunately the storytellers think that we're the children.
The Syrian Civil War is a religious war. It's not a war over democracy or freedom. It's a conflict between two totalitarian systems, one loosely based on a mixture of Islam and Socialism, and the other more rigidly based on Islam. Both are brutal and merciless to anyone who doesn't belong. Both have their death squads and extensive corruption on the inside.
Both are evil.
It's also an ethnic conflict being played out between Iran and the Arab world. And it even has elements of Ottoman revivalism on the Turkish side of the border where its Islamist rulers dream of reclaiming an empire.
None of that is a recipe for moderation. There are no moderates in a religious war. There are no moderates in an ethnic conflict. There are no moderates among those who would start such a war or those who intend to finish it.
Neither side is seeking freedom. Both are seeking absolute supremacy.
The Syrian opposition that we hear about on the evening news and in the columns of newspapers is an elaborate Potemkin village masterminded by the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Qatar to convince Americans and Europeans that the rebels have a governmental structure and are ready to take power.
The Syrian National Council (full abbreviation SNCORF) is a bunch of names and letters peopled by ambitious men. It commands less of Syria than it does of Washington and Brussels. If it tried to give anyone an order in Aleppo, there would be laughter. But it keeps getting away with giving orders in D.C.
The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire and the Free Syrian Army is neither free, nor Syrian, nor an army. It's a grab bag of guerrilla fighters, many of them foreign Islamists, who expect to receive American weapons and money and are occasionally willing to play along with the pretense that there is some kind of united army of national liberation for America to aid.
The political structures built up in Turkey and Qatar are fictional. The official leaders lead nothing. General Salim Idris commands nothing. All the organizations with Syria in their name are good for little except fooling Westerners into giving them weapons to funnel to the various rebel brigades, in exchange for promises of future influence and business deals, and plotting to take over the country afterward.
The only commanders who matter are the ones on the ground. And not only are they Islamists, but they are also far less housebroken than Idris. They're the sort that casually kill prisoners and eat their lungs. They wouldn't make a very convincing case for democracy and freedom in Washington, D.C.
The actual fighters have few allegiances except to wealth and religion. Some fight for pay, others fight for Jihad. Many for both. None resemble the mythical brigades of free officers fighting for a secular Syria that some senators still believe in.
Even the brigades and their names are smoke on a battlefield. Fighters move from one brigade to another. Brigades move from one association and alliance to another.
The boundaries between the Free Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front are not hard and fast. Some Islamist brigades play on both teams. Identifications are a matter of convenience. The vast majority of fighters, whatever associations they may have, are fighting to impose a Sunni Islamist system on Syria.
General Idris originally refused to cut ties with the Al-Nusra Front. After enough pressure and promises from Washington, he went along with the charade, but the actual commanders on the ground didn't. FSA forces continued conducting joint operations with the Al-Nusra Front and recently four out of five front commanders signed a letter demanding to work with the Al-Qaeda group.
The letter is another attempt to pressure Washington D.C. into providing weapons and air support. The Syrian opposition leaders have insisted that the only possible way that we would be able to "moderate" the rebels and marginalize Al Qaeda was by backing them to the hilt. In reality, the various brigades that are compatible will go on working together regardless of what D.C. does.
And none of them are our friends.
The "Al-Aqsa Islamic Brigades," an FSA-allied group, was caught sticking a photoshopped image of Washington, D.C. burning at the hands of Syrian rebel fighters on its Facebook page. An analyst was quoted as wondering why a group affiliated with "the generally pro-Western Free Syrian Army" would do such a thing.
"It raises the unfortunate but inescapable fact that not every group within the Free Syrian Army is closely aligned with U.S. interests in the region," he said.
More accurately, not a single group within the FSA is either pro-American or aligned with US interests.
Why would they be? An Islamic brigade has as its goal the replacement of Western political and judicial systems with Islamic ones through armed force. And the majority of the FSA consists of Islamic brigades. Islamists with that goal tend to think of Western political and judicial systems as idolatry and heresy. To the Salafi, idolaters and heretics have less right to live than sheep in a butcher shop.
As reporters tried to learn more about the "Al-Aqsa Islamic Brigades," they found a maze of splinter groups and alliances with the Al-Nusra Front that revealed that all the artificial structural overlays imposed by Western experts on bands of Eastern fighters don't actually matter in the real world.
There is no Free Syrian Army. There is no Syrian opposition. There are just groups of fighters carving out territory, seizing homes, oil depots and bakeries, raping women, killing Christians, and behaving exactly the way that armed gangs with heavy firepower and no law to restrain them do.
There are no moderate Syrian rebels. There isn't even a Syrian rebellion; only Muslim Brotherhood men in Turkey who act as gatekeepers for Qatari and Turkish weapons flowing to thousands and thousands of fighters, drifting in and out of gangs, killing their way across Syria the way that their distant ancestors might have during the original conquests of Islam.
Islam is their identity. It is a far more significant identity than the names of the brigades and alliances that they occasionally align with. It is their law, in the same way that the Pirate Code was the law of the buccaneers and the Thieves Law was the code of the Russian criminal. It dispenses rough justice and enables them to split the loot while remaining devout men who after every rape bow to Mecca.
What is happening in Syria is not a war between two sides. It's Afghanistan. It's Libya. It's the collapse of a country into warring bands. The only difference is that this collapse has been carefully orchestrated.
Slaughter in Syria will go on with the unrestrained savagery that can only be carried out by men who believe that other men are subhuman. It will go on with knives, with machine guns and with nerve gas. It will go on whether we bomb Assad or write him a sternly worded letter.
It will go on because there are no moderates in a religious war. Only the killers and the killed.