08/07/12: The Council on Foreign Relations features a piece by Ed Husain discussing how invaluable al-Qaeda has been in aiding the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) in their effort to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, FSA battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, bring discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. The unspoken political calculation among Western policymakers appears to be to get rid of Assad first – weakening Iran’s position in the region – and then deal with al-Qaeda later.