As Americans focused on the presidential election last week, Syrians were dying under the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad. But there were hopeful signs that the Obama administration is poised to play a stronger role in pushing for a post-Assad era. The administration took an important step by reaching out directly to fighters on the front lines — sidestepping the Syrian National Council, a fractured group comprised mostly of exiles and academics based in Turkey. The move signaled that any credible alternative to Assad must include representation from those who are making the greatest sacrifices now, including members of Syrian minority groups who are dying in large numbers to bring down the regime.
For months, US diplomats held out hope that the Syrian National Council would unify the opposition, including the uncoordinated rebel groups that hold pockets of territory in Syria. But Syrian rebels, who are doing all the fighting, widely view the council as irrelevant.