Over the past few weeks I have listened with interest and growing dismay at the complete lack of understanding of what is going on in Syria. Having lived there and the son of the first American operative to help overthrow a government there I know that essentially its a no win situation politically for the US as it has always been. I lived many years next door in Lebanon which spent almost 19 years in a civil war between Christian and Muslim and between sects within each.
Nothing was achieved except death and rubble.
Meanwhile we Americans automatically side with rebels once we hear them mention our catch words of "freedom" and "democracy" and hear the other side portrayed (rightly or wrongly) as a "brutal dictator". What we don't understand is that the region is fraught with divisions based purely on religion - a division that by definition has no rationality or common sense. The same was true in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, or England during its civil war or Kosovo or India and Pakistan - I could go on and on.
How many Americans know that the Assad regime was relatively benevolent as authoritarian governments go; women had rights, the streets were safe for everyone including Americans and it was one of the few places that US embassy staff did not need heavy security, minorities felt safe especially the Christians: why? Because Assad himself is of a minority sect, the Alawites which are no more than 12% of the population and are a sect of Shia Muslims. Why is Saudi Arabia backing the rebels? A regime that is the most repressive of women in the world, because they are Sunni and Assad is Shia. Why is Iraq still a mess? Because the government we put in place is Shia and the Sunnis don't like it. Saddam Hussain was a Sunni. Why did the current government in Iraq cozy up with Iran? Because Iran is Shia. Why does Iran support Assad? Because they are both Shia.
The fact is that if the rebels win there will be panic among all the non Sunni minorities especially the Christian and Alawites and most certainly all the Shias. That's why Assad still enjoys large support in the country. The Syrians know fill well what will happen if Assad falls and the rebels take control. They saw Lebanon next door, and Iraq now, and even Egypt. More than general confusion between camps within the rebels there will be a blood bath.
Here in the US the real issue has been Syria has been used by the Republicans as a means to undermine the President. John McCain who is oblivious of reality and probably senile at this point wants action yet there is no action one can take that will lead to a result anyone would want other than "giving a message". I think President Obama was super clever in turning the decision to attack Syria on the side of the rebels over to Congress. Republicans are already showing their extreme divisions so their propensity to attack the President no matter what he does will be severely blunted. If Congress says no to an attack Obama will be saved from the nasty prospect of wasting more American effort on a no win situation. If Congress says yes and it is a mess he does not take the blame.
Bashar Hafez al-Assad, born September 11, 1965, is the President of Syria and Regional Secretary of the Syrian-led branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. |
We delude ourselves if we think everyone in the region is dead set on "democracy". More than anything they want stability and getting on with their lives. They don't much care about who is in power as they are cynical enough to know it does not make much difference. You can be sure that if Iraqis or Egyptians could turn back the clock Saddam Hussain and Mubarak would be back in power. At least those guys knew how to keep a lid on their countries, women were certainly better off, no car bombs, and in Iraq's case several 100,000 people would be alive today that are now dead, not to mention the many 1000s of Americans who died or were maimed. And lets be honest - even we Americans are all for democracy if our party wins the election. If the other party wins we work to undermine, badmouth and even to boot them out. Mitch McConnell could not have said it more eloquently. When President Obama won the election he announced the Republican priority was "to make Obama a one term President". And ever since they are against anything he is for, even against things they used to be for and ideas they created. So much for the will of the people being respected!
One of the main arguments put forward for American intervention is the "message it will send" if we do nothing. Perhaps its about time we send the message that not everything is our problem and we will not come to the rescue of all the people who have allowed crappy governments to take hold. Its time people sort out their own mess and not look to us to bail them out. From now on we are going to do what we did with Russia. Nothing. If their governments are so bad they will fall in due time out of their own stupidity or incompetence. If they invade another country or threaten us or our allies that is a different matter. Genocide would also be another matter but Syria is simply a civil war of one group wanting to take over from another and the other group fighting back. If we support the rebels we may well encourage it turning into genocide - then what?
I know that it is "politically incorrect" to say that the smartest thing for us to do is nothing. It's not our business. More than that we should withdraw all support to the rebels so they give up sooner. Assad will eventually die and Syria will change in its own time. Not one American Dollar should be wasted on this fight between Shia and Sunni. If they want to kill themselves its their problem. We have enough of our own.