As I lay here waiting for the gurney to take me into the operating room and read the hundreds of kind letters from so many of you I hope to fill in your time with one more article.
Focus is everything, knowing what the central problem is and dealing with it. Here I want to discuss three articles that I basically agree with to point out how they miss the key issue and thus are somewhat misleading. I’m glad to see these three articles being published but it’s a case of, to quote Lenin, two steps forward, one step back.
First, the Washington Post published an editorial entitled, “The time for patience in Syria is over.” It criticizes “America’s long paralysis in responding to the conflict in Syria,” pointing out that the war and horrific bloodshed is escalating. And it concludes:
“President Obama called on [President Bashar al-] Assad to leave office, a proper reaction to the brutality. But Mr. Obama has not backed his words with actions that might help them come true.”
It isn’t every day that a mass media organ criticizes Obama. Yet there are two problems. One is that the measures the newspaper proposes are very much out of date:
“No one is arguing for a Libyan-style intervention into Syria at this point. But the United States and its NATO allies could begin contingency planning for a no-fly zone, now that Mr. Assad is deploying aircraft against the opposition. Instead of providing only non-lethal support, such as medical supplies and communications gear, America could help supply weapons to the outgunned opposition fighters. It could work with Turkey and other allies to set up havens for them.”
Since the opposition has been asking for a “no-fly zone” for about six months, arguing that the NATO allies “could begin contingency planning” for one isn’t exactly a bold measure. Moreover, while the United States is only directly “providing only non-lethal support,” it is facilitating the supply of lethal weapons by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And third, there are already safe havens for the opposition fighters in Turkey.
So none of those three ideas are decisive or even highly relevant. The key point is mentioned in passing in another passage, calling on the United States, “…To get a better read on opposition forces and to encourage those less inclined toward sectarianism.”
Yet this is the central issue! There is no point in supporting an opposition that’s going to procue a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists! That’s the issue: The United States should do everything possible to help moderates—both defected officers and liberal politicians–gain the upper hand. It should work closely with the Kurds and press hard to make sure that Christians are protected and that the opposition (or at least parts of the opposition responsible) will be punished if it commits massacres.
Is that so hard to see?
But guess what? Senator Marco Rubio also never mentions the Islamism issue in his article on how the United States should intervene in Syria. He better get an advisor who knows something about the Middle East fast or he may end up as another John McCain on the Middle East.
Second, Vali Nasr has some good points in a New York Times op-ed. But I perceive two very big flaws. One of them is a warning:
“If the Syrian conflict explodes outward, everyone will lose: it will spill into neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Lebanon and Iraq in particular are vulnerable; they, too, have sectarian and communal rivalries tied to the Sunni-Alawite struggle for power next door.”
Really? The issue is not that the conflict is going to spill over but that it is part of a Sunni-Shia battle that will be a major feature of the region in the coming decades. Lebanon and Iraq are merely other fronts in this battle and whatever happens in Syria isn’t going to start some new problem in those countries.
The question is merely who wins in Syria. A Sunni victory in Syria would empower a moderate-led Sunni community in Lebanon against Hizballah. As for Iraq, another Sunni power will make that government unhappy but isn’t going to intensify already existing sectarian tensions there. And Kurdish autonomy in Syria isn’t going to set off a Kurdish-Turkish war in Turkey either.