Why we should support the Syrian opposition, in spite of everything we know

Things sure aren’t looking too good in Egypt these days. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised by this. For decades, the true character of its society lay latent behind the veil of a dictator friendly to our interests, who mouthed words we like to hear about moving toward a more open, secular society. This never really happens under unrepresentative governments, of course. What happens instead is that the people seethe and their grievances build, and they’re drawn to well-organized, well-financed radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Plenty of “realists” in Washington no doubt appreciated Mubarak for his talent to project an image of stability, but anyone with some common sense and minimal experience traveling in that region would know that this not reality; it was a fragile facade. My guess is that the true national character of Egypt’s Muslim majority will be revealed in a year, and will be within a standard deviation of what Iran was in 1979. It will show a disturbing curiosity about nuclear weapons, its Coptic minority will begin to emigrate, its long-standing ties with the United States will begin to dissolve, and its borders near Gaza and Israel will be remilitarized.

To the extent our own government’s policies contributed to this outcome, that contribution was probably decades in the making. After the overthrow of Mubarak, the Obama Administration had a narrow window to support the democratic opposition and help it achieve a strong position in the elections we’ve just seen. I don’t know what the administration did in furtherance of that outcome or whether anything it did would have mattered anyway, so without more evidence, I can’t see a basis to blame the current President for that outcome. Our firewall now should be an insistence on the preservation of enough democratic structures so that when the Brotherhood fails to keep all of its promises — whether articulated, imagined, or projected — a better alternative will have a chance to emerge.

A revolution in this early phase can’t be stopped by external pressure; it has to run its course and have a chance to show its hideous face. Iraq’s Sunni Triangle was a good example of this, one that played out with exceptional speed, because of Al Qaeda’s exceptional brutality toward the local Iraqis. It will take longer in the case of the Brotherhood. Here and there, we will have opportunities to catalyze incremental advances, or to deter incremental regressions, in the Egypt’s cultural, political, or diplomatic character. I hope whoever occupies the White House in a few years is smart enough to seize them.

It’s interesting that when the Arab Spring broke out, plenty of foreign observers had higher expectations for Egypt than for Libya, including me. Egypt has a sophisticated, urbane class that originally led the revolution, but that class was hardly heard when the votes came in. Libya has been poor, ignorant, and isolated for years. Could its people build the kind of government we would recognize as democracy? I doubt it, but it’s reasonable to believe they can make significant improvements over their national character under Qaddafy and evolve, slowly, in that direction.

Western nations that helped the Libyan rebels overthrow him have won genuine affection from its new government, and large segments of the Libyan people. That’s more than we can say about Egypt. In Libya, the relatively minimal cost of NATO intervention helped secure an influential role in shaping its new government in a favorable direction. A lot of people on the far left will be disgusted by this, but Libya’s oil also matters, because our cars — Volvos included — run on it, and because Libya’s underperforming oil fields will eventually make its government wealthy enough to spend its oil money in the same ways that Iran has, or in the ways that North Korea has spent much less. Yes, there have been some internecine blue-on-blue scraps and even one small outbreak by pro-Qaddafy forces, but overall, the situation in Libya today is as good as we were reasonably entitled to expect. The leaders of NATO and President Obama deserve credit for this. Had they not intervened, the result would have been worse than Srebrenica, but not as bad as Rwanda. I don’t doubt that in such an event, Michelle Bachmann would still have been the President’s worst critic.

If anything, the national character of Syria is even more filled with suppressed rage than it is in Egypt. After all, the Assad family’s legacy has been decades of poverty, oppression, torture, massacres, sectarian oligarchy, and the conjuring of pathological hatred for a neighbor that has repeatedly inflicted humiliating defeats on the Syrian Army. Civil war has now come to all of Syria’s largest cities except Alleppo, but including the suburbs of the capital. I don’t see how the regime can survive over the long term. The longer the term, however, the more the opposition will coalesce around those who have no compunctions about how they use deadly force, and the more it will radicalize.

That is why, even if you reject all of the arguments Charles Krauthammer makes here, it is in our national interest to quickly build a strong operational relationship with receptive, friendly, and deserving elements of the Syrian opposition. If this means arming them, so be it. The Syrian people, like the Libyans and the Egyptians, will remember who their friends were in the time of their greatest need. So, one day, will the North Koreans and yes, the Chinese, too. It may not be realistic to believe that any Middle Eastern nation will become a flourishing, pro-Western democracy within the next five years, but it is realistic to believe that one can evolve, if given the space to grow. Our immediate objective should be to cultivate a good enough relationship with Syria’s future leaders and its people that, with good diplomacy, we can help protect that space.

Or we can watch Syria become what Lebanon became in the 1970’s. As murky and unpredictable as things are in Libya today, isn’t its outcome still much better than that?

17 Comments

  1. If a decent government emerges in Syria, and if it makes a credible commitment to peace, Israel should evacuate the Golan Heights.




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  2. Israel should just get out of the region altogether. It’s not their land and whenever they feel threatened they come crying back to big pappa USA. They’re like Pakistan but without a superpoer enemy to watch them.

    [Does your proposal start with the forcible evacuation of a strip of land stretching from the Elbe to the Dniepr, or are you proposing another genocide? I’m sure Stormfront won’t object to hosting that discussion, but this thread is about Syria. Last warning. – Joshua]




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  3. The ruthless application of deadly force works…just consider the birthing throes of the Soviet Union, where the entire Western world supported one of other factions of the “Whites” but was unwilling significantly to intervene. There is, accordingly, no reason to believe that the Assad regime is close to failure, especially when actively supported by arms from Russia (as the recent flight of a detained vessel from Cyprus to Syria exemplifies.)

    The Assad regime of Alawites are fighting for their survival. As the State of Israel shows, survivalists with their backs to the wall tend to win: they have more in the game. Alawites are a weird, almost but not quite heretical, sect of Shia Islam in a country which is still predominantly Sunni. They are utterly identified with the (admittedly barbarous) ruling family. But should Assad fall, there is likely to be a murderous bloodletting of several hundred thousand deaths. They must prevail to survive.

    We invaded Iraq in order to stop a continued bloodletting of tens of thousands annually. Do we want to sponsor now what we opposed then?

    And what next? Of course, it is just possible that the fall of the Assads would end the terror from Lebanon…but more likely, the Alawites of the ocean coast and littoral mountains would take over their native areas, and leave a rump Syria to the nomads of the desert. The Hezbollah occupation of Lebanon would be deepened with the real assistance of the Alawites, rather than merely their complicity. Lebanon would extend to Damascus.

    And then the Kurds could descend from the Turkish mountains, and extend their de facto state from Mosul westwards. And the Turks would intervene to kill them, in conjunction with the iranians, and the Iraqis would make a poor arrangement with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and the very stability of the entire Western world would be endangered as oil is cut off.

    And if you believe we could keep the Straits of Hormuz open against North Korean sea mines installed by their ally Iran, you’re not thinking straight. The NorKs make even better mines than the Chinee.




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  4. Because us Indians are well known for our boundless racism against the Jews and anybody who DARES speak out against Israel is evil. definitely. *eyeroll*

    Apparently there is no free speech allowed here. Remind you of another country?

    [Not in the slightest. Free speech becomes an issue when there’s (a) state action and (b) no alternative forum to express your opinion. I’m sure they’d appreciate your unique insight at Indymedia, Democratic Underground, or Prison Planet. Here, where I write the posts and pay for the costs of the site, I’ve decided to set a few rules for comment threads here to keep the trolls from driving away people who want to have a civil discussion about the thread topics. Would you want me and nine of my closest friends setting up an occupy camp and a portable toilet in your back yard? Also, we’d expect you to feed us. It’s like that. You’ll be in moderation, so if you have something on-topic to say, I’ll approve it. – Joshua]




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  5. Russia and China are deliberately destroying the UN Security Council’s power to keep the peace and defend human rights, says George A. Lopez, the Hesburgh Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. (He served on the U.N. Panel of Experts for Security Council sanctions on North Korea from October 2010 through July 2011.)

    His comment is at CNN.




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  6. From that article:

    Never in council history has China been the lone “nay.”

    Some basic fact-checking seems in order here. The PRC* has been the lone “nay” on three occasions: the admission of Bangladesh in 1972, ceasefire observers to Guatemala in 1997, and peacekeepers to Macedonia in 1999. The latter two were for no other reason except Guatemala and Macedonia had diplomatic relations with Taipei, which is as much of an abuse of the Security Council as anything I can think of.

    (If we want to be really technical and use “China” in the sense of “the holder of the ‘China’ seat at the UN,” the number goes up to four, since the ROC vetoed Mongolia’s admission in 1955. But that’s hardly germane at this stage.)




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  7. Joshua what do you make or think about the North Korean Harpsicord (misspell)
    rendetion of “Take on Me” by the 1980’s group A ha? Personally myself being born in the early 1980’s and growing up loving this as one of my fav’ childhood songs. I Honestly was colored shocked by this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBgMeunuviE

    [Not much, given that it’s not interesting, significant, or surprising in any way. – Joshua]




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  8. Well maybe if a North Korean band could play “Darkside of the moon” it may spark your interests. Well you have your right to not be surpriserd or intersted. Myself along with most people on Earth were surprised.




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  9. Most people on Earth did not view that news story, either because they don’t have regular internet access or because they weren’t interested.




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  10. Most people on Earth did not view that story, either because they do not have regular internet access or because they were not interested.




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  11. Perhaps I misjudged your apathy, perhaps I misconstrued your feelings about my find Josh. However I stand by my surprisement that a North Korean band sanctioned by KJU was/is playing on tour a very popular 1980s Western hit song openely. No bad blood Josh. I only hope to be helpfull at new finds.




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  12. No bad blood at all. It just didn’t interest me much. One thing that I never find significant is the “news” that North Koreans are humans. The fact that the regime permitted one guy to play something slightly different on an accordion suggests slightly less rigid marketing than we’re used to, but that still doesn’t put this story remotely on par with the very significant stories about human rights or the food situation that the media routinely ignore.




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  13. Regarding the A-ha-playing North Korean accordionists, judging from hits to my own site and links I’ve seen about it in my regular news trawls, I’d say that interest in the “Take On Me” cover was comparable to that of “South Korea’s Susan Boyle” last year.




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  14. Kushibo, if the DPRK sponsors a tour of Ms. Boyele’s rendetions of late, then color me surprised again with the rest of the world. By now a Dynasty that sinks a hole in one in every single hole must be craving more claims.




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