Whither Syria? Whither America?
So far Arab Spring has done little to increase Israelis’ optimism. According to the latest Pew survey, a solid majority of Egyptians support abrogation of the peace treaty with Israel; the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline has already been sabotaged twice; and Egyptian efforts to interdict weapons smuggling into Gaza have been abandoned altogether.
Does the possibility of the Assad dynasty falling in Syria offer some compensation? Opinion is divided. Writing in National Review, CIA veteran Michael Scheuer notes that since 1973, the Syrians have maintained quiet along the border with Israel. After killing 20,000 or more civilians in the Moslem Brotherhood stronghold of Hama in 1982, Hafez al-Assad embarked on determined effort to placate the Islamists, building thousands of mosques and opening Sharia schools. As a consequence, argues Scheuer, in the event Bashar Assad’s regime falls, Islamists are likely to play a major role in whatever follows.
Yet for the very same reason, the ever astute Barry Rubin, argues that Islamists have played no role in the current street demonstrations: the Assads, father and son, have pursued a nearly ideal Islamist foreign policy. Syria is, after Iran, the largest international supporter of terrorists, including Hizbullah; it has allowed anti-American fighters to pour over the border into Iraq; and it hosts the world’s leading terrorist organizations. In addition, Rubin places the hardcore support for Islamists in Syria at 15% of the population, about half that of Egypt, and with much less potential for growth due to Syria’s multi-ethnic society.
The eventual victor in Syria is impossible to predict. But a bloodbath appears likely. The Assads and the upper levels of the military are Alawites, who comprise only 11% of the population and are viewed as heretics by mainstream Moslems. If the regime falls, the Alawites will be massacred. (Nearly a decade ago, David Wurmser, then Vice-President Dick Cheney’s senior Middle East advisor, told me that Lebanon’s Beka Valley is much more important to the Assads than the Golan because the escape route north for Alawites fleeing Damascus to their ancestral homelands passes through it.)
Spengler (the unlikely nom de plume of the brilliant David P. Goldman) suggests the most likely outcome is prolonged instability, as two groups with nothing to gain from compromise and everything to lose from defeat – the dispossessed poor and the entrenched elite — battle it out in the streets. That prolonged period of instability, with the corpses piling up in the streets, represents a setback for Iran and Hizbullah, who will lose, at least temporarily, a crucial ally.
ABOUT ONE THING there is no dispute: The Obama administration’s response to the massacres in Syria has been shameful, both morally and strategically. After the initial shootings of demonstrators by security forces, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s implausibly characterized Bashar Assad as something of a “reformer.” The administration’s silence echoes its initial failure to offer any support to Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution and makes mockery of the justifications for the “humanitarian” intervention in Libya, which now appears likely to generate as many civilian casualties as it prevented.
No one has suggested American military intervention in Syria. But when pressed about the failure to respond in any fashion, Clinton had only this to offer: There has been no universal condemnation, no Security Council resolution, and no call by the Arab League. In other words, America has abdicated conduct of its own foreign policy in light of American interests and values. That responsibility has been outsourced to such moral luminaries as the UN and the Arab League. The American failure of initiative is particularly striking with respect to Syria precisely because so rarely do humanitarian values and national interest so perfectly dovetail. The fall of the Assad dynasty would remove one of the world’s most actively anti-American regimes and one of the most repressive.
Unfortunately, this administration believes not just that American power has been exercised immorally in the past, but that America’s superpower status is itself immoral, and that only multinational bodies command legitimacy. That is bad news for both America and the world.
This article first appeared in Mishpacha, May 4.