Realism in Syria

March 15, 2012
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There is a “realist” case to be made for getting involved in the Syrian civil war, either by providing military assistance to the rebels or by actually sending American troops or planes to fight with them.  (Probably the former is more advisable, however.)  By the way, we are discussing real “realism” here, rather than “fake” realism sometimes espoused by pacifists seeking to cloud their pacifism or partisans seeking to disguise their partisan critiques of the other party’s President.  There are essentially three realist arguments for American intervention in Syria: 1) American involvement is unlikely to worsen the situation; 2) American intervention will distract and weaken  the Assad-Iranian axis. 3) Other actors are likely to become involved, so the United States should act to insure its own interests.  Any and all of these arguments in tandem provide strong support some sort of U.S. involved in the Syrian conflict.

The first reason for involvement is that the U.S. is in a unique situation here – it is almost impossible for any of the current Syrian rebel groups to be worse than the current Assad regime (for American interests).  The Assad regime is truly brutal, and is strongly allied with the most dangerous anti-American nation in the Middle East, Iran, which is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.  Syriahas been used by Iran as a conduit to provide weapons and other assistance to the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which have killed and injured Americans.  Syria has invaded and occupied its neighbor Lebanon, and is a very destabilizing force in Lebanon’s fractious politics.  In fact, it is widely believed that Syrian agents were heavily involved with the murder of Lebanon’s Prime Minister in 2005.  There is no real democracy in Syria, and the human rights of its people are completely disregarded by President Assad.  During the second U.S.-Iraq war (2003-2007), the Syrians provided al-Qaeda and other Sunni radicals with arms and equipment to kill American soldiers.  The Assad regime even tried to develop its own nuclear weapons; fortunately, Israel bombed the nuclear complex before its completion.  Finally, defeating Assad, or even fighting him to a draw, would rightly be considered a major loss of prestige for the Iranians on the world stage.

Meanwhile, the worst rebel group in the Syrian alliance – the Al Nusrah Front, which is allied with al-Qaeda –  even if it was able to win the probably inevitable post-Assad Syrian struggle for power, would still be at least a marginal improvement over the Assad regime, if only because it is very unlikely to have such strong ties to Iran.  Besides which, the Syrian regime has its own Al Qaeda ties.

The second reason  that the U.S. might also want to provide aid to the rebels is to balance out the Syrian regime with a competent fighting force, thereby distracting Assad from pursuing further mischief in the Middle East.  In a way, this strategy reflects the thinking behind a comment once made by Menachem Begin in reference to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980’s, between the anti-Semitic mullahs of Iran and the equally anti-Semitic dictator Saddam Hussein – “We wish both sides great success!”   According to some experts, including Gregg Roman of the GLORIA Center, the Syrian rebels cannot last on their own without some assistance.  The rebels themselves have said they need the help.  Thus, the U.S. does have an incentive to help them in some way, even if it is not enough to allow for a complete victory in Syria.  In fact, under this line of thinking, victory is beside the point.

The third reason for supply assistance of some sort is, as my co-worker Kyle Shideler  of  EMET, has written, that “(i)f the United States and its Western allies do not participate in arming and training the Free Syrian Army, it is almost certain that the armed opposition will turn to the Gulf States, most notably Saudi Arabia, which have already given indications that they intend to see the opposition armed.  They will almost certainly choose to support Islamist and especially Salafist elements at the expense of secular ones.”  Since that is the case, then the U.S. should also make sure it is a player in determining Syrian’s future.

Of course, any assistance provided to the Syrian rebels needs to be carefully controlled by the U.S.  It should only be directed towards the most pro-American and pro-democratic forces within the Syrian opposition umbrella.  President Obama, who has to this point been far too friendly towards the Islamist government of Turkey, must not give Prime Minister Erdogan a blank American check for him to supply his favorite Islamist Syrian organization.   It’s our money; we should determine whom it goes to!

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