Case Study In Rebranding: “Syrian Arab Coalition” and “Vetted Rebels”

How new terminology introduced by the Pentagon on October 9th to go along with the new program (aid versus train), seems to be obsoleting the term “moderate rebels” (part of the old program) to be followed unquestioningly by the media with no deeper thinking of the various groups with shifting allegiances that either of these terms may refer to.

October 12, 2015

The Branding

With the admission of failure of the Pentagon plan to arm the “moderate rebels” – a term not usually put in quotes in the media before this week (though the adjective moderate is obviously subjective) – came this October 9th article by Michael Shear, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times entitled “Obama Administration Ends Effort to Train Syrians to Combat ISIS“. 

In this article the term “Syrian Arab Coalition” is first introduced (complete with quotes).

Interestingly there’s an admission that anti-Government forces never heard of this new term.  In fact this is mentioned again  

 In other words, along with a new program – to parachute aid in to the Syrian Arab Coalition versus train moderate rebels – came a new term for the recipients.

Noting the “Syrian Arab Coalition” Branding

I noted this new term in a tweet the same day writing “watch for new PR term” (as well as noting that the covert-that-everyone-knows CIA program to help anti-Assad forces – was the REAL story)  

Adding “Vetted Rebels”Terminology 

Over the next couple of days the term Syrian Arab Coalition/Rebels spread through the media.  

I noted it in on October 12th in a Foreign Policy editor’s tweet referencing a CNN article wryly noting it was the “new favored alliance of the Kurds and FSA-affiliated groups”.

In this same CNN article the term vetted was also introduced into the general media lexicon (without quotes). 

Later there was a Reuters article not just using Syrian Arab Rebels without quotes but more interestingly, using the term “moderate” rebels ie with quotes around the subjective adjective (which I again noted).

It also mentioned rebels being vetted without quotes.  

So instead of “moderate” rebels there’s now vetted rebels.

The Guardian soon followed using the same Reuters article as before, thus identically using Syrian Arab Rebels (without quotes) and “moderate” rebels (in quotes) and which I again noted.

And then AFP tweeted a standard simplified (i.e. not showing difference between various jihadists factions and “FSA”) map of the conflict zone in Syria with a caption on the “Syrian Arab Coalition which has been fighting IS…for months”.  I commented  



While seemingly trivial, it’s interesting how an umbrella term – whether it’s moderate rebels or now the Syrian Arab Coalition who apparently have been vetted – gets introduced by the US Government and media parrot it with little question as to which individual groups and factions are actually referred to, what their ultimate aims are, and what the vetting process is, other than anti-ISIS or anti-Assad.

It allows strategic ambiguity since the individual groups themselves, their allegiances, their levels of “moderation” vary week-to-week and may or may not be included in these umbrella terms depending on various factors.

It thus makes the situation convenient for the USG to explain away since one has reassuring terms like “moderate” or now that these official sounding “Syrian Arab Coalition” rebels  have been “vetted”, to cover the mess beneath.

And the media instead of demanding a closer look under the rug, plays along with this marketing shell game.

Ultimately, whether it is Coke Classic or New Coke, it’s still sugared water.  And not too good for you.

Article was modified October 16, to note adding of the term “vetted” to the general media lexicon.


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One Response to Case Study In Rebranding: “Syrian Arab Coalition” and “Vetted Rebels”

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