Brookings Doha’s Charles Lister has just had his new book “The Syrian Jihad” published and has been doing radio and TV appearances to promote it. In an interview with the UK’s Channel 4 he was asked if there are moderate groups in Syria that can represent the opposition on the negotiations table. He very hesitantly and unconvincingly said yes but then he added that Islamist militants must be part of the solution too (see video).
Anyone who follows Mr. Lister on twitter (
@Charles_Lister) knows that he is a big supporter of Ahrar al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda style group that is very closely tied with Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria). The two, along with other Islamist groups that operate under the banner of the FSA, form the alliance known as Jaish el-Fateh.
Former Ambassador to Syria, Middle East Institute’s Robert Ford, Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund and Charles Lister all have personal relationships with members of Ahrar’s leadership. All three make their admiration for the group very clear every time they write about it. Ambassador Ford went as far as to write an article entitled Yes, Talk with Syria’s Ahrar al-Sham in which he urges the US government to have a direct dialogue with them. Lister and Lund’s day job is officially “think tank analyst” but both double as spokesmen for Ahrar. This becomes evident to anyone who looks through their twitter accounts.
For the record, the State Department, when asked their position on Ahrar, has said only this, in the typical elusive manner in which they answer all questions related to specific armed groups in Syria:
Those in the business of dissecting official US government statements will realize this was as good as saying Ahrar is not one of these “moderates.”
The carefully crafted State Department two-liner on Ahrar also suggests that the militant Islamist group still has too much Al Qaeda-related baggage associated with it. Otherwise, the Americans who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars just on vetting fighters in Syria, would be all over Ahrar like flies on shit.
After the events in Paris, Ahrar’s foreign relations man Labib Al-Nahhas condemned the attacks in a series of tweets. Lister, being ever so protective of Ahrar, retweeted a snapshot of the tweets with lightning speed.
When another person in the group’s leadership issued a statement praising the attacks, our boy Charles was quick to make things right:
Note how he is on first name basis with Labib Al-Nahhas.
We are going to have to wait until at least January to find out who of the Syrian opposition will be on either of the two lists separating the designated terrorists from the non-terrorists and whether Lister’s wet dream will come true.