Syrian opposition alarmed by U.S. reconciliation with Assad
Just a year ago senior Bush administration officials were regularly meeting Syrian opposition leaders to discuss regime change in Damascus. Congress was enthusiastic over the prospect of a pro-Western Syrian opposition that would end the Iranian-aligned regime of President Bashar Assad.
Well, that's all history now. President Bush has been pressed by the State Department and former Secretary of State James Baker to embrace Assad as the U.S. savior for a pullout from Iraq. Baker, long an admirer of Assad's late father, believes the current president could be convinced to help stabilize Iraq long enough for the U.S. military to withdraw.
This has set off alarm bells within the Syrian opposition. The umbrella group has decided to open an office in Washington over the next three months to lobby the White House and Congress to get rid of Assad.
The message of the National Salvation Front is that Syria under Assad has become an Iranian protectorate. Assad, the opposition leaders assert, no longer makes his own decisions. Instead, Iran has deployed intelligence and military officers throughout Syria to maintain control and help operate the military and its huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
The National Salvation Front doesn't pretend that Syrian democracy will be easy or even likely. In an attempt to win Saudi support, the coalition includes the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, an unabashed admirer of Al Qaida.
The administration has been quietly encouraging the umbrella group to establish a presence in Washington.
The planned U.S. appearance of the National Salvation Front, which could be determined in November, could sideline the pro-U.S. Reform Party of Syria. The party has warned that the Brotherhood, an ally of Hamas and other Sunni insurgency groups, would dominate the National Salvation Front.