Wednesday, June 06, 2012
In light of the Houla massacre, there's been a lot of noise and chatter about the West (and let's face it, that mostly means America) intervening in Syria to stop the carnage.
Fine. Let's look at this in some detail.
There's no doubt that Basher Assad is one of the world's bad actors, and a vicious tyrant who's an enemy of the West.
He's a sponsor of genocidal terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas, and was behind the assassination of numerous Lebanese politicians including Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, not to mention a lot of journalists, business people and others who simply got in the way in Lebanon, Syria and occasionally in Europe.The regime deliberately impeded UN investigative tribunals convened to investigate some of these crimes. Not only that,but after the 2006 Lebanon War, Syria, along with its ally Iran cheerfully violated UN Resolution 1701 to rearm Hezbollah and then turned Lebanon into a colony.
During the Iraq war, Syria was an open enabler of jihadis headed over the border to fight our warriors there, even providing them with havens as well as open borders to dodge back over if things got heavy.
And if Basher Assad is a bad actor, he's an amateur next to his father Hafez al-Assad, who sided with the Russians during the Cold War, launched three aggressive wars on neighboring Israel, murdered something along the line of 20,000 people in the Syrian city of Hama alone, had Lebanon's President Basher Gamayel assassinated, and okayed Hezbollah's bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut,along with a host of other nasty actions.
Now during all this time, the West did absolutely nothing to the Assads. There were no angry speeches in the UN, no UN sanctions, no referrals to the International Criminal court, no sanctions by America or individual western countries, no travel or major trade restrictions, nothing.
As a matter of fact, right up until this latest outbreak, Europe was fairly well disposed to the Assads, and touting 'engagement'. And a number of influential Americans were pretty cozy with the Assads as well. People like John Kerry, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi who style themselves foreign policy experts were pushing for totally normalized relations between Syria and the U.S, even foreign aid. And they were pimping a 'peace' plan that involved pressuring Israel to unilaterally give up the strategic Golan Heights to put even more people and territory under the heel of the Assads.
There was never even the bad excuse of oil diplomacy for any of this, since Syria doesn't have it in significant quantities. The UN played along because it has become subservient to a bloc of Muslim nations and those who wish to trade with them, and the Europeans and the American 'foreign policy realists' went along because they've always liked to make themselves seem important by playing up to the same elements.
What's changed this time are two factors that allowed the same sort of people who always engaged with the Assads, (particularly but not exclusively on the left) to get on board for Syrian regime change ; First the 'Arab Spring' which allowed the rationale of supporting what appears to smell like Arab Democracy, that ever-elusive fantasy. And second , the fact that Syria has become persona non grata with the largely Sunni Arab League because of Alawite-ruled Syria's increasing identification with the Shi'ite bloc headed by Iran.
So the usual suspects are out in force, calling for the West to get actively involved in booting Basher Assad out and supporting regime change in Syria. Let's examine this in some detail, and ask a few questions:
First, and most important, what exactly are we trying to accomplish in Syria by intervening and promoting regime change? A sovereign Syrian nation under democratic rule that's an ally of the west?
There have been several occasions where the West has tried to facilitate that sort of thing in the Muslim world, in Egypt, in Iraq, in Libya, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan and in Iran. It's been an abject failure every time.
Quite simply, the 'customers' aren't interested in what we're selling. Oh, they'll hold an election here and there if they're bribed by enough western aid money, but it always breaks down along tribal lines because that's what most of these people know and understand. And the inherent culture regards what we consider liberty with fear and loathing, because it diametrically opposes what Islam teaches them. Small wonder it's been such a waste of time, blood and treasure, especially given how we've gone about it.
This is even more true in Syria than it was in Iraq.
Iraq at least had a degree of cohesiveness and something of a longer history as a nation. Syria was simply a province that passed from one hand to the next until after WWII, and then simply saw a succession of military coups.
What Syria actually represents at this point is the tipping point between two movements in the region that the west has unwisely facilitated. On one side, there is the Shi'ite bloc being assembled by Iran, which includes Lebanon, the Assad regime and the Alawites in Syria and increasingly, the Shi'ites in Iraq.On the other side is the emerging Sunni caliphate ruled by Muslim Brotherhood, which appears as if it will eventually include Egypt, Libya, the 'Palestinian' occupied territories in Gaza, Judea and Samaria and most likely, Jordan. Al-Qaeda, who was inspired by the Brotherhood and who's leader, Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri came from there are also part of that faction, although al-Qaeda has certainly been an independent actor who has received aid and assistance form both sides.
Syria is where they meet, and most of the Syrian opposition, like the Syrian Free Army, are Muslim Brotherhood affiliates. Understanding what's happening in Syria is impossible without appreciating that fact.
Another point worth discussing is what intervening in Syria would actually involve. If our goal is the same one we supposedly had in Iraq as given above there are a number of steps we'd have to take.
First of all, we would have to defeat not just one faction, but both, and do so decisively. Second, we would have to occupy the country, probably at least for a decade. One of the mistakes we made in Iraq once the decision was made to go in was to not appreciate the force tribalism and sectarianism is in this part of the world, and to turn government over to the Iraqis far too quickly.
These people have no idea what democracy and freedom are, and would have to be taught. Elements like a free press, freedom of religion, speech and assembly and the end of tribalism and the suppression of women are things the Syrians would have to learn to appreciate from the ground up. That's a particularly tall order since Islam teaches them exactly the opposite,and I frankly doubt we could accomplish it on a large scale. Certainly we weren't able to do so in Iraq, not that we tried.
We would have to be prepared, while we were doing this, to completely refurbish the country's infrastructure at our expense. The Assad's Ba'ath government has been as efficient is dealing with the economy as Saddam Hussein's in Iraq was. Syria has some good farming country, some decent ports, a small amount of oil and natural gas and some pretty Mediterranean scenery, but there's precious little to really build a viable economy on, even if we were somehow able to get Syrians hooked on the idea of becoming a liberal, western-style democracy against all their inclinations and history.
In Germany and Japan, where this kind of nation building was actually successful, we had a far easier task. Both the Japanese and the Germans had seen their fascist ideologies decisively defeated, both countries lacked tribalism and were nationally cohesive, both countries had at least some experience with western-style democracy and both countries had economies capable of thriving. Finally, in both cases, we made no apology for our occupation, nurtured the political elements favorable to the west,and made sure they won the first, all important election. And didn't allow them sovereign government for over seven years until all these elements were firmly in place.
Even if we put the same effort into Syria, I doubt the results would be the same. What we would be more likely to achieve is a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Islamist state that would in no way be friendly to the west...or worth the effort.
Like it or not, we simply have no dog in this fight, and even if we did,the kind of results the sort of people who are shilling for us to get involved in Syria would be problematical at best, because of the element of Islam if nothing else.You can try painting a leopard to hide its spots, but the beast's innate nature remains.
We're far better off allowing the locals to settle their differences in their time honored fashion and concentrate on real problems, like Iran's rogue nuclear program or figuring out how we plan to deal with the emerging Islamist caliphate we've so thoughtlessly enabled and energized.
UPDATE: What a surprise...it turns out the Houla massacre was committed not but Assad's forces, but by Sunni rebels, and that the victims were all Shi'tes and Alawites, mainly women and children. Nor, according to sources and eyewitnesses is this the first time women, children and other non-combatants have been targeted by the rebels. Anyone still want to pick sides in this viper's pit?