Sheer Folly

Roger Cohen gets it horribly wrong when he advocates arming Syria’s rebels.

The money quote is:Sheer Folly

In short, Syria is dangerous. But that not a reason for passivity or incoherence. As the Bosnian war showed, the basis for any settlement must be a rough equality of forces. So I say step up the efforts, already quietly ongoing, to get weapons to the Free Syrian Army. Train those forces, just as the rebels were trained in Libya. Payback time has come around: The United States warned Assad about allowing Al Qaeda fighters to transit Syria to Iraq. Now matériel and special forces with the ability to train a ragtag army can transit Iraq — and other neighboring states — into Syria. This should be a joint effort of Western and Arab states.

At the same time, mount a big U.N.-coordinated humanitarian effort centered on enclaves for refugees in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere, establishing, where possible, safe corridors to these havens.

Push hard to bring Russia and China around: They will not defend Assad beyond the point where that defense looks like a liability for other bigger interests in the United States, the Gulf and Europe.

The problem is that given the way things have unfolded in the middle east, settlement will not be part of any plan. Like Libya, Obama is likely to say that the people of Syria will not be safe until Assad is gone. This is going to require superior forces on the part of rebels and considerable bloodshed on the part of the Assad regime’s forces and supporters. There will be no stalemate. Given that the rebels dont have a  unified leadership structure, it is unlikely (in the absence of american puppet masters) for there to be peace even if the rebels win. Ultimately, Cohen doesn’t want peace predicated on a compromise between Assad’s forces and the rebels (what his call for equality of forces  is all about). He wants Assad out. The fastest way to peace is therefore to back the stronger and more organised party and thereby end the fight as quickly as possible. (Note that you don’t have to invent whole new institutions if al Assad remains in power. There are therefore strong Burkean reasons to not support the rebels.)

Are there other reasons we wouldnt want the rebels to win?

Syria is a multiethnic state ruled with an iron fist by one minority — the quasi-Shiite Alawites — and including Christian, Druze and other minorities that between them compose about a quarter of the population. The majority is Sunni…

…The Assads are a mafia, a minority (the family) within a minority (the Alawites) within a minority (the Mukhabarat secret police). They co-opted others — notably the Sunni merchant class — through imposed stability

Let’s pause for a moment and step back. It looks like some quasi Shiites, Christians, Druze, other minorities and the Sunni merchant class’s interests are opposed by the rest of the Sunni majority. My religious freedom spidey-senses are tingling…

 Arming Assad’s opponents will only exacerbate the fears of Syria’s minorities and unite them, ensure greater bloodshed, and undermine diplomatic efforts now being led by Kofi Annan, a gifted and astute peacemaker. It risks turning a proxy war into a proxy conflagration.

Well, it does seem that all sorts of minorities have good reason to fear the Sunni majority. And here is why:

Wider interests are in play. Iranian Shiite theocracy, increasingly isolated, is defending the regime against a Free Syrian Army funded in part by Saudi Sunni theocracy: that’s the proxy war.

And from

U.S. allies are enlisting the help of Islamic extremists who fight either for cash or for Jihad. Sunni extremists are enlisted in this fight because the Syrian government relies on Shia Muslim support domestically and also externally, since Iran’s regime is largely Shia Muslim and is a key Syrian Ally.
The majority of Muslims in the world care very little about the small differences between Shia and Sunni Islam; only small groups of extremist sects are willing to kill for their unique vision of Islam. But it is precisely these sects that the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies rely upon as a military and political force in the region.  These sects are powerful only because of years of immense financial and military support by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Dating back before the U.S.’ support of Islamic extremists later known as the Taliban against the USSR in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its ally, Saudi Arabia (a Sunni Islam extremist dictatorship), have used extremist proxy forces all over the Middle East as pawns in their geo-political chessboard (Vijay Prashad documents Saudi Arabia’s exporting of Sunni extremism in a chapter of his excellent book, The Darker Nations).
One recent example of U.S. backed Sunni extremism is in Iraq, where the United States armed and funded the now-powerful Sunni extremist “Awakening Council” in order to hunt down any Iraqi opposition to the U.S.’ military presence. Now the Awakening Council is being discarded by the Shia majority in Iraq, but the 80,000 plus armed members will not go silently; many of them are rumored to have gone into Syria to further serve their Saudi and U.S. masters.
The New York Times reported about the recent Sunni extremist trend in Syria:
“In interviews last week, some residents of Homs, including several Christians and Alawites [Shia Muslims], expressed fears that hard-line Sunnis known as Salafis were forming armed groups and stoking violence. Those fears… reflected mounting concerns among secular activists that as the conflict drags on, an Islamist [extremist] presence in some militias was giving the uprising an increasingly sectarian character. The tensions played out this week between secular and Islamist activists, with the Islamists pushing to name the weekly Friday protests “Al Jihad,” …” (January 28, 2012).
The article also explains that much of the violence in Syria is not due to the Syrian government gunning down un-armed protesters, but responding instead to the violent attacks from these armed groups.
The above Asian Times article also commented on the Sunni extremist trend mounting against the Syrian government from northern Lebanon, a country which contains some key U.S. allies:
“Prominent radical Salafist [Sunni] clerics in Tripoli [Lebanon], including Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, have called on Syrian Sunnis to join the uprising against the Ba’athist [Syrian] regime… Lebanon’s US- and Saudi-aligned “March 14 Alliance” (which includes former Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri’s Sunni-dominated Future Movement) is in the forefront of organizing anti-Syrian [government] activities in Lebanon.”

i.e. the Salafists. These are the same extremists whose teachings inspired the sept 11th attacks.

And the minorities are right to be worried. There has been an increase in religiosity among the rebels (so says al jazeera)

Syrian Sunnis taking part in the uprising are themselves devout. Many fighters were not religious before the uprising, but now pray and are inspired by Islam, which gives them a creed and a discourse. Many believe they will be martyred and go to paradise if they die.

And we want these people to win? Did the US learn nothing from arming the mujaheddin in Afghanistan?

Maybe, the best case scenario if the rebels win is that they turn into a copy of a moderate muslim nation like Malaysia. However, in Malaysia, non-muslims are second class citizens and have severely abridged religious freedoms. 



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5 thoughts on “Sheer Folly

  1. And we want these people to win? Did the US learn nothing from arming the mujaheddin in Afghanistan?

    I want to see someone make a viable case that we learned anything.

    It seems to me we still haven’t gotten anywhere from the Cold War checkers match mentality. Anything that might harm the allies of our enemies is good.


  2. Can’t say I agree with any of this.   Assad and his Alawi clans have lorded it over Syria and Lebanon for long enough.   They’ve backed some sinister ministers and must now pay the price.   There will be a sorting-out in Syria and it won’t be pretty but it will be entirely necessary.

    Syria is already just such a puppet regime.   Iran has its fist so far up Assad’s ass they move his mandible.

    Syria has made a dog’s dinner of Lebanon, a country I know rather better.   They’ve backed Hizb’allah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in many corners of the world.   Terrorists’ Row in Damascus has been in business since the days of the airline hijackers and still is.  Those who do business with theocracies, especially ones on hard times financially, should not attempt to be their military proxies for wars are awfully expensive and require stronger backers than a bunch of Bearded Wonders in Qom, Iran.

    America’s response is just about right.   Relax, Murali, the grown ups are in charge in Washington.   Between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama, we’ll manage just fine.   We’re not in charge of that situation, as we weren’t in Libya and Egypt and all the rest of these revolutions.   These countries are in a molting phase, like so many crustaceans, getting rid of the Strong Men who wore their gaudy uniforms and brave state out of memory. The conceit of their inconstant stay was to believe it could last forever.


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