ELIZABETH O'BAGY writes that the conventional wisdom —the Syrian rebellion is controlled by al-Qaeda— is wrong:
With the U.S. poised to attack Syria, debate is raging over what that attack should look like, and what, if anything, the U.S. is capable of accomplishing. Those questions can't be answered without taking a very close look at the situation in Syria from ground level.
Since few journalists are reporting from inside the country, our understanding of the civil war is not only inadequate, but often dangerously inaccurate. Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news has been led to believe that a once peaceful, pro-democracy opposition has transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al Qaeda; that the forces of President Bashar Assad not only have the upper hand on the battlefield, but may be the only thing holding the country together; and that nowhere do U.S. interests align in Syria—not with the regime and not with the rebels. The word from many American politicians is that the best U.S. policy is to stay out. As Sarah Palin put it: "Let Allah sort it out."
In the past year, I have made numerous trips to Syria, traveling throughout the northern provinces of Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo. I have spent hundreds of hours with Syrian opposition groups ranging from Free Syrian Army affiliates to the Ahrar al-Sham Brigade.
The conventional wisdom holds that the extremist elements are completely mixed in with the more moderate rebel groups. This isn't the case.