By Samuel Burke, CNN
The United States’ former point person on Syria admits that there is practically no chance diplomacy will ever remove Bashar al-Assad.
Former Ambassador Frederic Hof told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, “My sense is that this will be ultimately decided through force of arms on the ground” – despite the Obama administration’s reluctance to give heavy weapons to rebels.
President Obama announced on Monday that the U.S. would formally recognize the opposition as representative of the Syrian people, but that may not have a significant effect, at least for now.
“I think in terms of the military situation on the ground, quite bluntly, it changes nothing in the near term,” Ambassador Hof told Amanpour. But he believes that politically, it is good for Syrians in the long term.
Despite the violence in Syria, many groups are nervous about what would happen if al-Assad were to leave - particularly minorities who have been protected under Assad’s rule. But Hof believes that the U.S. recognition puts a face on the opposition and will help reassure the various factions.
At the same time it recognized the opposition, the Obama administration designated a group known as al-Nusra as terrorists—a move which was been met with backlash in Syria.
A vice president of the Syrian Opposition Council, George Sabra, told Amanpour that he cannot understand why the United States gave al-Nusra that label.
“The Syrian people consider al-Nusra as a part of the revolution,” Sabra said. He added that the West branding them as terrorists only adds to Bashar al-Assad’s claim that the civil war is not a natural uprising, but rather an invasion of foreign powers.
Ambassador Hof said that even though he is disappointed in the U.S.’s decision, the designation “unmasked this al-Nusra organization for what it is: al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
In spite of that, Syrians see al-Nusra making major gains in Syria. Free Syrian Army commanders on the ground told CNN that al-Nusra was instrumental in the seizure of a military academy near Aleppo this week.
“I think it’s understandable that people in Syria will reach out wherever they can and take tactical alliances,” Hof said. “They are fighting for their lives against an extraordinarily brutal and terroristic regime.”
A Facebook page supporting al-Nusra in Syria now has more than 20,000 supporters.
But Sabra said the group is not essential to the opposition, and that it is just one component of many groups that constitute the Free Syrian Army.
There’s very little political will from the American public to get involved in another war in the Middle East, but Sabra said that what his opposition group really needs is American weapons.
“We don’t need to see any foreign soldiers in our country. This is very clear,” Sabra told Amanpour. “But we need special weapons against tanks and jet fighters. We have enough fighters.”