Urgently Needed: More Contributors for Polishing al-Jolani
Over the past two years and using different methods – official statements, research reports, and media materials – the US has made a great effort to whitewash and “Syrianize” al-Nusra and its leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani.
As these efforts have all come from official US sides, US-based think tanks, and American media outlets or by American journalists, these efforts have been primarily and clearly solely American, at least publicly, and the last major one of which was the film released by American media outlet, PBS, which we discussed in an article titled “Jeffrey Finally ‘Spills the Beans’: We Didn’t Target al-Nusra at All and We’re in Contact with It!” (Kassioun issue #1021).
Initially, US efforts appeared in the form of hints like saying that al-Nusra has not generated “international threats for some time” (See Kassioun, issue #952 article “Washington’s Agenda: One Item… No Solution”) and developed to blatantly admitting working with al-Nusra and having contact with al-Jolani. These US efforts involved several direct interviews with al-Nusra’s leader, al-Jolani, by American researchers and journalists, who through their reports and articles portrayed him as someone who is Syrian and caring for Syrians and their well-being, an image which they tried to “polish” further by showing him as an ordinary man wearing a suit and talking about a political solution.
Over three months have passed since the last time there was noticeable effort in this regard. However, a week ago, the Turkish edition of British online newspaper “The Independent”, published an interview with al-Jolani. The interview was only published in Turkish.
Based on this, we can make the following preliminary observations:
- This is the first time a non-American media side meets with al-Jolani and publishes an article about it. Until now, all (at least open) contact with al-Nusra leader has been through a US or US-based official, organization, or media outlet.
- Along with the above, it is noteworthy that the previous coverage and efforts of whitewashing al-Nusra and its leader were not supported by the US’s historical allies – specifically the West – at least not openly, even by Britain, which is historically the US’s closest ally and the one that usually has nearly identical positions and policies to those of its “sister” on the other side of the Atlantic.
- Although the media outlet that published the article is British newspaper “The Independent”, the interview was conducted by a Turkish journalist and published in the Turkish version of the newspaper and only in Turkish. This provides the opportunity to tie the article with both Britain and Turkey, and at the same time with neither.
- Anyone following this whitewashing process from the beginning can easily notice that the content of the interview did not present anything new or different from the previous interviews or reports, except for a few points relating to some recent events (e.g., the events in Afghanistan). However, there is nothing qualitatively new compared to previous content.
Two Preliminary Conclusions
In light of the timing, format, and within the general regional and international scene, particularly with regards to the Syria file, we can make two main conclusions from the interview:
First: Britain is now onboard with the US in its efforts of whitewashing al-Nusra and its leader al-Jolani, albeit in a less blatant and more indirect manner, where the interview was published in a British newspaper, but not the main website and not in English.
Second: Having a Turkish journalist conduct this interview and publishing it in Turkish, even though in a British newspaper, allows suggesting that Turkey in onboard the whitewashing of al-Nusra in contrast to the official Turkish position of designating al-Nusra as a terrorist group. This is regardless of the actual Turkish position from al-Nusra, and more importantly, in contradiction with the Astana track.
In an interview published in London-based The New Arab on September 6 (published in English on September 10), James Jeffrey, the former US Envoy to Syria, said when talking about changes to the behavior of the regime that the US is looking for are one that would lead to “opposition in Idlib and SDF in the northeast to reintegrate”. Three days later in an article published by US-based Wilson Center, where he now works after leaving office, he wrote: “better Syrian government behavior could promote the reintegration of armed opposition forces including America’s ally, the Kurdish-led SDF”. Interestingly, Jeffrey over the span of a few days “forgot” or “inadvertently dropped” his friends in Idlib, that is, al-Nusra. If we consider the audience of the first media outlet compared to that of the second, not mentioning “the opposition in Idlib” in the second one was not a coincidence.
Britain, Turkey, “al-Nusra”
None of the US’s allies, whether the West or even Turkey as a NATO ally, have expressed agreement with or support of these efforts of whitewashing al-Nusra, at least not publicly, though they have not rejected them publicly either. It seems, however, that the US is no longer capable of doing this work by itself if it is to gain momentum and achieve the desired objectives, at the required speed. Therefore, there is need for more partners to get onboard to be able to move the process along and push it forward.
Now, the US (and others who are trying to undermine any efforts to find a solution to the crisis in Syria) can use the article discussed herein, to indicate that there are others (Britain and Turkey) standing behind and supporting these efforts.
The Brits are likely fully supportive of what the US is doing in this regard, which is revealed by the complete harmony between the two sides in everything related to the Syrian issue, and the difference in their position even from the Europeans who stand in the same camp in the end, but with reservations here and differences there. The British entry into the “washing of al-Nusra” process at this time, may come in the context of the American need to conduct the last “writing offs” and urgently, before leaving Syria, and implicitly working to ensure that al-Nusra will stay for some time after the US’s exit, similar to what it did in Afghanistan
When it comes to Turkey, the equation is slightly different. While Turkey is an ally of the US in the NATO, it is not at the same level of “alliance” with the US as the Brits. The goal of adding Turkey to the equation (albeit in the media) is related more to the Turkish-Russian relationship. Certainly, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement through the Astana format and all that has resulted therefrom, has not been welcomed by the US and the West in general.
Thus, an attempt to suggest that Turkey is open to jumping on the openly whitewashing al-Nusra wagon is an attempt to create more contradiction or amplify differences that already exist between Russia and Turkey, within the larger plan to undermine the work of the Astana track and contribute to not only obstructing reaching a real and comprehensive political solution in Syria through the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254, but also suggesting that the backseat occupied by Turkey on the international negotiation table about Syria is behind the American side.