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 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?


Independent Patriot said...

Here's my problem with Syrian scenario...historically it is the same as the Spanish Civil War. We in the US did not participate in that fight because it was fascists versus communists. However, it became the prelude to WW2. Syria is the same Rubicon. We are not involved because it is Assad's genocidal regime (Iran) versus the Sunni Islamists (MB or even al-Quaeda). However, I fear in some way it too is the prelude to another world war.

The important point here is to greatly weaken the Iranian Mullahs and destroy their network into Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. Not that the Sunni islamists are truly better, but the direct threat to the world right now is Iran and their nuclear w4eapon. People also forget about Assad's other weapon stockpiles, chemical and biological weapons.Where are they, who is ultimately going to get their hands on these weapons?

Libya was a joke as to its importance in the scheme of the world. Syria is a precursor to something much,much,much worse. To do nothing and let it play out is to allow others to control your fate. We should not make the same mistake we made int he 1930s. Unfortunately I see it happening again on every level, with the Jews even as the Judas goat once again.

Rob said...

Hello IP,
Your analogy is interesting,although I would say we might very well have set up the ground for another war by our continued appeasement of Islamists and our non-action on Iran.

And IMO, Libya is more important than you or the 'foreign policy experts' in the State Department and the White House think.Imagine Libya, with its oil wealth,allied with Egypt, the 'Palestinians' and Jordan under the banner of the Muslim Brotherhood (and remember that Libya had and Egypt currently has a nuclear program).

This is the Caliphate, something the Islamists have been dreaming of since the 1920's and Barack Obama has handed it to them on a silver platter.

Our getting involved in Syria on the side of the Islamists isn't going to change that one bit - in fact, it will exacerbate it.

I think it's far better we save our blood and treasure for the struggle to come.

The west can begin to prepare fore that by getting energy self-sufficient, getting our financial house in order, severely limiting trade and immigration with certain countries and especially in Europe, undoing the demographic damage of the last 30 years and having more babies.But that's a subject for a whole other discussion.


Sara Noble said...

It is horrible but I do think there is nothing we can do. I think in the absence of our help though, Russia and al Qaeda and becoming increasingly more important.

Michal said...

I am most curious as to what "Western aid money" went into Tunisian or Libyan elections, and whether author does truly believe that Arabs need to be bribed in order to rally for democracy.

It sounds a bit like regurgitated tales of various regimes from former Soviet bloc to current despots of Arabia, claiming that somehow people fighting for their dignity and self rule don't know what they want. That, somehow, those millions of people in the streets have, perhaps, just stumbled into a revolution by mistake.

Rob said...

Hello Michal,
There's a difference between an elected government and a free country.

If you believe the Islamist run regimes in Tunisia and Libya are going to be a vehicle for 'democracies' where all people all have equal rights, where freedom of the press, religion, assembly prevail, where women and homosexuals and non-Muslims have equal rights, I have a bridge to sell you.

By that logic, the Nazis, who came to power via elections were a route to 'democracy' too.

What these people apparently want (Or at least the majority of them) is democratically elected Islamist fascism. They're welcome to it, but I have no problem calling it what it is.


Michal said...

I am very well aware of the difference between a democratically elected government and a free country. I am talking about the assertion that:

"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 I can only repeat what has been said: whether you truly believe that the millions of people that put their energies into the revolution have perhaps stumbled into the upheaval by mistake, or that they have all been bribed to demand those elections.

Furthemore, it ought to be pointed out that Libya is bankrolling the revolution from its own cash reserves, which it has aplenty of. The foreign assistance post-revolution has so far been very much limited, to basic humanitarian aid to the displaced and some military equipment for the national security force in building. Neither of which makes the national government that's swimming in Gaddafi's stowaway cash (somewhere between $100 - $200 billion, more than entire year's GDP) particularly dependent on west's mercy.

So really, elections because of aid money?

Rob said...

Compare, if you will, two elections in Iraq.The first was held during the U.S. occupation and heavily supervised by America, and resulted in a relatively fair election that broke along sectarian and tribal lines.The second one, held by the Iraqis themselves was notably corrupt and saw the Shiites manipulating things to keep themselves in power and marginalize the Sunnis.

And BTW, if Libya's so well fixed, why have they taken out such huge loans via the IMF?

The so-called Arab Spring is can be put down to two words: 'food' and 'Islam'.

It used to be that the Arab despots could provide food for their people by subsidizing prices for things like cooking oil, rice, and cereal grains. The price in these items has skyrocketed, and the countries involved simply could no longer afford these subsidies.

It used to be that Chinese and Indians were the low ones on the pyramid, and the Arabs ate. With the expansion of the Asian economies, its the Arabs who are now at the bottom rung of the ladder.and whom of course blame their leaders.

The GCC countries were able to use their oil profits to still subsidize these items and cut back on unrest. Countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan,and Syria weren't, because they lack oil money.

Libya and Bahrain, which have oil, are exceptions, because there was a tribal element involved. In Bahrain, it was a Shiite population fueled by Iranian provocateurs against a Sunni monarch.

In Libya, it was Khaddaffi against the tribal rebels in the east of the country, also sparked by his refusal to pay for subsidies.

Khaddaffi, Assad, Mubarak and Ben Ali were (and in the case of Assad, still are) symbols of the old Arab nationalist movement, which was a failure on many levels.

As you know, the Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamists main argument is that the Arab world is in misery because they have 'strayed form true Islamic rule', and that returning to it is the solution to all problems.

People really interested in freedom wouldn't swallow this argument,but then, as I wrote, the majority of the 'customers' aren't interested in freedom.

The inherent culture regards what we consider liberty with fear and loathing, because it diametrically opposes what Islam teaches them.

Egypt is a perfect example of this at work.


Michal said...

Libya has, to my knowledge, taken out IMF loan to get hard currency on hand immediately, back last year, while its money was still locked in freezed accounts. This is diametrically different from "Libyans got bribed to hold elections". Of course, you may prove me wrong.

You are right in that food prices played a role, but again, that's completely unrelated to your claim that somehow the elections were held for aid money. They weren't. It wasn't the goal or the cause. When talking about financial affairs, the chorus focused, rightly, on corruption of the rulers, but I don't think anyone said anything about financial aid.

Also, no, Libyans haven't got anything to do with Muslim Brotherhood.

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Rob said...

Actually, the Libyans haven't actually held a real election least that's what al-Jazeera says.

It remains to be seen what sort of government that election results in,if it results in anything at all. At present, Libyan is far from united and separatist movements, militias and tribalism abound. There are also a number of stories about how these different armed militias and tribal movements are behaving in Libya that don't seem exactly conducive to a free society and the rule of law.

My main point was that elections in this part of the world do not result in free societies,because that's not what the people in this part of the world want.Th eArab Spring was not about democracy or freedom. If your point is that Libya's election is not being done under western supervision and no 'bribery' is involved,I'll concede that...but my main point remains indisputable.

Also, I'm afraid you're not quite correct about the Muslim Brotherhood's role in Libya. The Islamists are a major presence there.

They may not be members of Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party, but they are certainly part of Libya's version of the Brotherhood and are affilited, with similar goals and outlook.

Not only that,but al-Qaeda is an increasing presence here, as they relocate back to the Arab world after the American assassination of Osama bin-Laden, which settled a long standing argument between OBL and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri about relocating to the Arab world to take advanatage of the turmoil and rising Islamist movements versus staying inured in AfPak.

Egyptian al-Zawahiri, who formerly was a major figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and still maintains excellent relations with them is now head of al-Qaeda.

By the way, Michal, although we disagree on certain matters, I appreciate your comments, which add to the mix.


Michal said...

To clarify, I don't doubt that extremists will attempt to take advantage of the current lack of order, however they ought to be differentiated from the mainstream Libyans. No doubt, they will also attempt to make the impression of a mass following, as the Iranian state media piece does.

Regarding the Benghazi rally, I would like to add some more context, which is oddly missing from the Star piece: