Again, the issue isn’t whether the United States wants an end to Syria’s dictatorship (nationalist version), but whether it wants it to be followed by another Syrian dictatorship (Islamist version). The latter may be some improvement over the current regime in one strategic respect: it would be anti-Iran and try to subvert Iranian influence in Lebanon. But hopes that the Syrian people will really have a better life are quite questionable.
The czar was overthrown in 1917 by the Communists; so was the shah, in 1979 by the Islamists; and the much-ridiculed Weimar Republic in Germany was overturned by Hitler in 1932; and the corrupt monarchy in Egypt in 1952, and the corrupt regime in Cuba in 1959. At the time, in each case, it was claimed that the successor regime had to be better. In fact, it was worse by far.
As in the case of Egypt, the massive coverage and discussion of the Syria issue largely ignores clearly visible scenarios and dangers that should be taken into consideration in setting policy.
Israeli intelligence says that radical Islamist militias now control the entire Syrian side of the two countries’ border. Are U.S.-backed rebels or the government they produce (even if it denies such behavior) going to restart attacks on Israel across a border which has been quiet for forty years? Unconfirmed reports are that at least one of the training courses involves anti-tank warfare. That might in the long-run be used more against Israeli than against Syrian forces. While there is a real chance of bickering-the basis might also be established for an Egypt-Gaza Strip-Syria alliance among the Muslim Brotherhood branches ruling each country.
Equally, the Obama Administration does not know whether the weapons and training will be used in massive human rights’ violations and ethnic massacres of civilian Alawites and Christians. These might be carried out with U.S.-facilitated weapons. Remember that if such things happen they were predictable and predicted.
Then there is the potential for anti-American terrorism. I think the U.S. ambassador was in Benghazi, Libya, the day he was murdered, to try to retrieve U.S.-supplied weapons, including lightweight, advanced anti-aircraft systems, that Libyan Islamists were selling to Hamas and other terrorist groups. Yet how much difference is there between providing arms to Hamas (Muslim Brotherhood, Gaza branch) and to the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria branch? And will some U.S. diplomats be placed in jeopardy a year or two from now trying to get back those weapons supplied in Syria?
Thus, the Syria situation might be setting the foundation for a new Benghazi-type situation.
Secretary of State John Kerry discussed increased U.S. backing for the Syrian rebels in a meeting with Qatar’s prime minister. Qatar is the country cooperating with the United States in supplying weapons to the Muslim Brotherhood forces, the best organized militias, in Syria. Yet beyond this supposed cooperation, in reality Qatar is a headache for real Middle East moderates because it often sides with radical Islamist forces including Iran. Qatar is not giving weapons to the Syrian Brotherhood because it likes America but because it wants the Brotherhood to win. In Obama Administration parlance this is a good thing since that helps the “moderate” Brotherhood as opposed to the radical Salafists.
Kerry said, “We did discuss the question of the ability to try to guarantee that it’s going to the right people and to the moderate Syrian opposition coalition.”
Consider that sentence.
Who are “the right people?” The Obama Administration considers the Muslim Brotherhood and several dozen radical Islamist (Salafist) groups to be the “right people” qualified to receive weapons. Almost all of these groups defended the al-Qaeda militia against a U.S. boycott. According to information from U.S. government sources, the number of actual moderate groups that American experts think can be counted on is a small proportion, perhaps amounting to 10 or 20 percent of the whole.
Since arms are already being supplied in large quantities are they in fact going to the right people, considering that there were some real problems with this procedure in Afghanistan and Libya?
Kerry also did not refer to moderates in the Syrian opposition coalition but implied that the coalition itself is moderate. That’s not true. The armed opposition is largely led by the Brotherhood and Salafists; the political arm of the opposition is largely led by the Brotherhood.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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