The West will inevitably oppose them, and “the Syrian people will start to view the international community as their enemy,” Nakhla said in a telephone interview from Turkey. A Damascus university student who slipped out of Syria just as the uprising began in early 2011, he spent months hiding from Syrian intelligence in Beirut while disseminating video and updates from protesters inside Syria to the outside world on the Internet.
Recruited to work on USIP’s project, he is now in Istanbul to set up the independent Day After organization to provide technical assistance to the coalition.
Interactive: Recent events in Syria
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The group receives money from the United States and several European governments whose intelligence services maintain close watch over the Free Syrian Army and assorted rebel groups, but whose governments have refused to engage in substantive outreach to them, Nakhla said.
“My understanding is, it’s a legal issue,” he said. “The FSA, at the moment, has no official recognition or status. . . . Some of them, they are sectarian; some have been labeled as terrorist. No Western country will risk it to work with them.” He insisted, based on what he said were his own contacts with FSA commanders, that the rebel military would gladly accept assistance other than arms, which they are already receiving from Persian Gulf states and raided Assad arsenals.
Frederic C. Hof, who served as the State Department’s special adviser on transition in Syria until September and is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, is somewhat less pessimistic, but equally certain that the Syrian endgame is now approaching.
The Obama administration, Hof said in an interview, should prepare for a bumpy ride in post-Assad Syria. “The United States and its allies are not always going to like some of the decisions and some of the people involved. We don’t control the timing on everything here. This is a Syrian revolution.”
“In an ideal world, it would be a seamless transition — the regime gone, the opposition slides in, with existing structures, and makes it work,” he said.
“But this is going to be messy, to say the least, one way or the other.”