In the old days in the Levant if you had a mediocre donkey that you wanted to sell you resorted to a time-tested method. You place the mediocre donkey next to the skinniest, weakest-looking donkey you can find which makes the mediocre donkey look far more attractive to prospective buyers. Many a naïve person was parted with his gold in return for an average donkey. Everything is relative, as they say.
What does this have to do with Syria? Some are using the same trick to pass the newly-formed Islamic Front as an acceptable alternative to al-Qaeda, represented by both of its branches in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Nusra Front. By taking care to position the Islamic Front next to ISIS in a metaphorical donkey-selling stand, the Front starts to look far more attractive. Thanks in no small measure to ISIS’s reputation for being utterly bonkers.
In fact if you were to rank jihadis in Syria on a scale of 1-to-10, ISIS would be on another scale that goes to 11. ISIS is the hard-core, uncompromising, utterly irrational jihadi outfit. And this is the neat trick that the backers of the Islamic Front, reported to be the Saudis, are trying to pull. The trick has worked so well in fact that John Kerry has declared that they have no reservations about talking to the Islamic Front.
This despite the fact that the outfit that the US has been supporting so far in Syria has just been kicked out by Saudi Arabia’s friends there. Yet Kerry and the US administration have fallen for the old donkey-selling trick. The Islamic Front is an explicitly sectarian organization that is dedicated to establishing Sharia in Syria and fighting against democracy and secularism. But as we have come to expect from the US and its eventful history with Islamists, Kerry will only realise his mistake once he takes the donkey back home.