Sunni Muslim Salafists holding the Syrian opposition flag during a demonstration. Photo Credit: J. Hoffa
Another problem is the prospect of rebel massacres. Specific instances of deliberate ethnic murder are controversial and some highly publicized ones probably didn’t happen. But some did happen. By helping the rebels without distinction and having no ability to impose restrictions, U.S. policy will be complicit in massacres of Alawites and Christians followed by the killings of Sunni Muslims too secular for the Islamists’ tastes.We also know, for example, that Islamist rebels massacred several dozen regime soldiers from a low-level unit that hadn’t been involved in any atrocities, because they did so right in front of nearby Iraqi border guards. Really nasty murders were committed by NATO-backed forces in Libya but that war—and the atrocities–came to an end fairly quickly and much less attention was paid. In Syria, a lot more attention will be paid, a lot more people killed, and it won’t end until hundreds of thousands of people flee.
Predictions that President Bashar al-Asad would fall quickly were wrong. The regime is surviving and even regaining some ground. It has done so by yielding parts of the country where local rebel governments run by strongmen, Islamist, or defecting officers have taken over. Each little area is different but there is no U.S. strategy to help those who aren’t Islamist and are less radical. So it is a tragedy indeed. But to back the rebels in the wrong way will just help impose on Syria another dictatorship that will link up with other Sunni Islamists (including Egypt and Hamas) to promote regional instability and anti-Americanism.
Does that mean we should want the Asad regime to survive? No. We should want the more moderate rebel forces to win, the Kurds to get autonomy, and Syria to become a really moderate and as democratic as possible state. The likelihood of this happening, however, is plummeting, due partly to bad U.S. policy. And without a lot more Western aid to the rebels Asad is going to be around for a while whatever we want or think.
So the second-best option is that the war continues. This is horrible. People are dying; tens of thousands are becoming refugees. There is immense suffering. Yet if the main alternative is to help create a revolutionary Islamist state in Syria allied to Egypt, Gaza, and other radical Sunni Islamists that is not an attractive outcome. Even in places where the Muslim Brotherhood won by less than a majority, as in Tunisia, or Libya, where the U.S. government managed to get its client into office, the radical Salafists and Jihadists are threatening to get out of control. How much faster that would happen in Syria since the Obama Administration sees no problem in backing Islamists in Syria.
So far I have seen absolutely no indication that any leaders on the Republican side understand this. Some of the latter, like Senator John McCain, are mindless interventionists. One can only hope that the next U.S. president understands the distinctions that must be made in Syria.
But let’s be clear here. The Obama Administration helped install an anti-American, destabilizing radical regime in Egypt. It has a big responsibility. What’s happening in Syria goes beyond that. There’s no rationale of claiming that Obama had limited influence or didn’t know what he was doing. The administration’s Syria policy is a direct crime against U.S. interests. It is also a grave blow against Israel, would condemn the Syrian people to decades of slavery, and would increase the likelihood of war and terrorism in the region.
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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