Whither Syria? Whither America?

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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.

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8 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    Does anyone in the audience honestly think that there will be a State of Palestine in the near future? Will the US treat Israel like it treats Libya, bombing its planes and sinking its ships and embargoing its commerce? Heaven Forbid! Once Israel starts developing the natural gas fields and becomes even stronger economically, there is less chance it will be a Pariah state. At least, this is how I hope.

  2. Michael says:

    Why yes, Reb Yid, one and the same. The very few times Obama has done something right to protect Americans and the world against Islamic terror — going it alone in Pakistan, keeping Guantanamo Bay open — he’s dumped his campaign promises and studied from George W.’s playbook.

    This time, he’s dumped Israel and studied from Abbas’ playbook.

  3. L. Oberstein says:

    Obama is not really sure what to do. Events in the Arab world are happening and he is playing catch up.
    In his Thursday speech, Obama came out strongly against the murders by the Asad government but did not say that Assad had to step down.In the past there were numerous revolutions in the Arab world and elsewhere and the US did not get involved. What has changed is the wars in Iraq and Afganistan and the whole post 9/11 eera that has made the US care about what happens over there.However, except for Libya, no one is going to intervene on the ground to bring about regime change. It really is a mess and I have little confidence that the US government knows what to do.
    It is possible that Obama openinly favored the 1967 borders to stave off the recognition of Palestine by the UN. What he advocated may not be what Netanyahu wants but it is in sync with previous Israeli offers at the bargaining table. I don’t see a Palestinian State gaining independence in the near term because of their own internal problems, but by advocating it, maybe Obama thinks he will gain some good will among the Arabs. I don’t know if it will work for him and I hope it isn’t imposed on Israel.
    we need Divine Mercy to keep from being a sacrifice to better relations with the Arab world. Let’s her what the US leaders say at the AIPAC gathering.

  4. Reb Yid says:

    Yes, that socialist, internationalist Obama.

    The President who finally put the nail in Bin Laden’s coffin without giving Pakistan any hint about what was going on.

  5. Michael says:

    I find it hard to believe that “Reb Yid” wrote that after Obama’s speech of today, in which he carefully avoided any hint that Bashar should leave, and instead spent his time saying that after a failed peace process, years of terrorism and the withdrawal from Gaza created another center for Islamic terror in the Middle East, the answer is for Israel to surrender and pull back to indefensible borders, including a retreat from East Jerusalem.

    If the author was “off-base” it is only because he calls Obama’s response to the massacres in Syria shameful, while giving Obama a pass for his inaction over Iran, his tepid involvement in Libya, and his support for the new Palestinian unified terrorist front. This administration’s Middle East policy will be known as the most inept and anti-Israel in 50 years past — and G-d-willing, for 50 future years as well.

  6. Reb Yid says:

    As the recent week has shown, the author’s conclusion is simply off-base.

    Obama has led the charge to impose sanctions on Assad and some of his key aides, which will in all likelihood be followed by much of the international community.

    In so many words, he has basically told Assad he must lead an orderly transition or leave.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Under what conditions can the so-called international community mix into a sovereign nation’s internal affairs? Such interference is increasingly being aimed at Israel. If we encourage use of international tools against dictators, what prevents the UN, for example, from using the same tools against the good guys? That’s the same UN that is at the beck and call of antisemitic authoritarian regimes.

    As for unilateral American initiatives, what good could they do if led by someone conflicted about America’s true mission?

  8. cohen y says:

    There you go again…..
    (Theoretically since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia,but actually since the inaguration of the League of Nations)countries cannot interfere in a another countries’ internal affairs without the international communities’ acquiescense (although practiced selectively .