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Proceed With Caution

Author: Ed Husain, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
December 5, 2012
New York Times

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It's fashionable in European capitals to talk in patronizing terms about how "the Americans" do not understand the complexities of the Middle East. Well, on Syria's current conflict "the Americans" have repeatedly demonstrated greater caution, prudence and wisdom than their European counterparts. France and Britain both rushed to recognize the new National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces last month, while the U.S. administration continues to try to better understand this new body before awarding official recognition.

It is highly likely that the U.S. will officially recognize the coalition in the Dec. 12 "Friends of Syria" meeting in Morocco. But it should do so with eyes wide open. The new organization remains besieged by many of the same bitter divisions, power rivalries and assorted in-fighting that have plagued previous opposition bodies since the beginning of the uprising.

Without a doubt, Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, the current leader of the coalition, has greater credibility inside Syria (unlike his predecessors) as someone who has been confronting the Assad regime and facing persecution since the "Damascus Spring" of 2001. But we have yet to see any significant degree of coordination between this new body and the fighting forces inside Syria, or a credible commitment that reassures religious and ethnic minorities.

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