By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
Expectations are low for Sunday’s Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, where representatives from more than 70 nations and international organizations will gather to discuss ways to hasten the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
The reason is simple. The most critical piece is missing: Plan B.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made no secret of her frustration with the opposition Syrian National Council’s inability to offer a vision for a post-al-Assad Syria that all Syrians can sign on to. This week, Clinton said the United States would be “pushing them very hard” to present such a vision in Istanbul.
She’s not alone. Many a senior administration official has summed up the SNC in two words: “A mess.”
The characterization from European and Arab diplomats may be more diplomatic, but no less critical of the SNC’s lack of leadership, organizational skills and ideas.
“They are all over the map, depending on whom you talk to on any given day,” one senior U.S. official said. “It’s hard to think of what we can do going forward when there is no credible alternative.”
More importantly the SNC, made up of mostly Syrian exiles, has not demonstrated it has support inside Syria. U.S. officials are seeing parallels to the war in Iraq, where the United States relied too heavily upon the Iraqi National Congress – a group of exiles run by businessmen Ahmed Chalabi – which was ultimately found to be corrupt and unreliable. When Baghdad fell and the Baath party disbanded, it became quickly apparent the group had no base inside Iraq from which to draw, and the United States was left to run the country.
“The U.S. is hoping these expats can deliver. They are telling you they can, but their actions and infighting are telling you they can’t,” said the University of Oklahoma’s Joshua Landis, who writes Syria Comment, a daily newsletter on Syrian politics. “The Obama administration fears they will implode or be overtaken by actors within Syria who are better connected to forces on the ground. The Obama administration doesn’t want to be caught going down the same yellow brick trail as the Bush administration did when it backed the Iraqi National Council only to discover that it didn’t have much purchase with Iraqi society.”
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Article courtesy cnn.com