Folks should read that first, before diving into the controversy, which has unusually steep policy implications.
While Ms. O'Bagy is identified at the op-ed as "a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War," it turns out she's also affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), an anti-Assad political action committee with a pending application for 501(c)(3) non-profit status at the IRS. Foreign Policy cited the lady's credentials in June as the "political director at SETF." And here's the group's press release, "SETF Welcomes Dr. Elizabeth O'Bagy to DC Staff."
Recall that the Institute for the Study of War is Kimberly Kagan's neoconservative foreign policy think tank. It's pretty interesting that O'Bagy's piece was cited by Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain during hearings this week. But the pushback was enough for the Institute to publish an addendum to Ms. O'Bagy's biography at the website:
Press Advisory- September 6, 2013:As far as I can tell, Ms. O'Bagy's a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University. She's young, 26 years-old. All this seems to bother Jerome Corsi, who writes at WND, "Obama relying on student's spin on Syria?"
The Institute for the Study of War employs Elizabeth O’Bagy as a senior analyst on its Syria portfolio. She also has a role in the Syria Emergency Task Force that she wishes to clarify. She states:
“The Syrian Emergency Task Force has filed with the IRS to register as a 501 (c) 3, and has been an important subcontractor for the United States and British governments in providing aid and assistance to the Syrian people. I work with the Syrian Emergency Task Force in an advisory capacity on a number of humanitarian aid and governance building contracts. I am hired on a contractual basis in my role as the Political Director and Humanitarian Aid Coordinator, but do not receive a salary from the organization. In this role with the Task Force, I have worked on a number of contracts with the United States Department of State to provide an evaluation of the current aid and assistance programs inside Syria and provide guidance on how to better implement these programs.
“The Syrian Emergency Task Force does have a registered 501 (c) 4 and does engage in political advocacy. However I do not work with this office and I do not lobby on their behalf. My role within the organization has been limited to humanitarian efforts funded through the United States Department of State and the British Foreign Office.”
Kimberly Kagan, President of the Institute for the Study of War, writes, “I have great confidence in Elizabeth O’Bagy and her work. She has written numerous, fully documented reports on the Syrian opposition. Her nuanced arguments, the evidence on which she bases them, and the citations of her sources are available for all to examine.”
Corsi's a spinmeister himself, so take that FWIW. He does link to an interesting Reuters piece out Thursday, "Kerry portrait of Syria rebels at odds with intelligence reports."And see the commentary at Wintery Knight, "Intelligence reports show Islamic extremists dominate Syrian opposition."
There's also a Memeorandum thread with the salacious headline, "Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Draws Scrutiny Over Writer's Ties to Syrian Rebel Advocacy Group."
So who's right?
Ms. O'Bagy's traveled frequently to Syria, as recently as one month ago. The territorial division of control among rebel groups she describes sounds both logical and realistic. But the appearance of outside militants aligned with al Qaeda wasn't a factor over a year ago, when the administration would've had less worry over arming terrorists. At this point it's hard to believe that "moderates" still dominate the opposition. Indeed, recall what Edward Luttwak wrote a couple of weeks ago:
The war is now being waged by petty warlords and dangerous extremists of every sort: Taliban-style Salafist fanatics who beat and kill even devout Sunnis because they fail to ape their alien ways; Sunni extremists who have been murdering innocent Alawites and Christians merely because of their religion; and jihadis from Iraq and all over the world who have advertised their intention to turn Syria into a base for global jihad aimed at Europe and the United States.That sounds more like it, although perhaps more "on-the-ground" research reports will clear things up. But that's not my problem. It's Obama's and his bomb-happy allies in the Senate. And so far I don't think they're making the sale.
ADDED: Here's Daniel Greenfield's report that indicates that the Free Syrian Army forces under General Idris is riddled with Islamists, "The Wall Street Journal’s Misleading Report on the 'Moderate' Syrian Opposition."
And don't miss Rusty Shackleford, "Study: Red Unicorn, Rainbow Brigades Dominate Syrian Opposition."