Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Let's Sit This One Out
The "Arab Spring" seems to be lengthening out into a long, hot summer. The simmering unrest in Syria has attracted some attention in this country, with calls for sanctions and intervention to some degree. To this I say, Please, No.
Make no mistake, Bashar al-Assad is a nasty piece of work. Gangly, weak-chinned and sporting a cheesy moustache, he looks every bit the mild-mannered ophthalmologist he once was. Due to the death of his older brother, Bashar fell heir to the family dictatorship at his father's death in 2000. Hopes of him harboring reformist tendencies have born precious little fruit, and the government's response to the recent street demonstrations have shown that Bashar al-Assad has no intention of giving up the family business.
That said, Syria is not Egypt and neither is it Libya. Yes, the educated Syrian populace is frustrated with their lack of economic opportunity, as well as corruption (though it hardly rises to Egyptian standards.) But there is no widespread opposition and hatred of the Assad regime, heavy-handed as it can be. And the myriad minority groups (of which Assad himself is a member) are fearful of the Sunni majority gaining the upper hand. And Assad is a known quantity in the region, a fact that even his arch-enemies, the Israelis, can appreciate.
One of our parish families spent 3 weeks in Aleppo in April. At that time, at least, nothing was happening there. Another parish member, along with her two young daughters, is in Damascus now visiting family. She reports life is normal, with no disruptions. Of course, both of these examples are from Syrian Christians, who have more to fear from Assad's fall than anyone else. But then I recently heard from my Muslim friend in Aleppo. His words, in broken but clearly understandable English were: "as lately you had maybe in American news about Syria and what is going on but it is all wrong ."
But with demonstrations in the street against autocracy, surely we, the original Revolutionaries, have to do something, don't we? Actually, no. Charles Glass, in an excellent article, here, agrees with the old French saying that there is an "urgent need to do nothing."
Syria is a complex and diverse society in which outside do-gooders risk destroying all they claim to support. The first victims of a war in Syria will be the religious minorities. These include the Alawites and the Christians, who comprise about ten percent of the population and have prospered under the Assad regime. The government, despite the Ottoman-era practice of defining citizens by religious sect, is explicitly secular.
As in Iraq, chaos would mean the mass emigration of the Christian communities who have lived there for two millennia. Syria, following the American invasion of Iraq with its concomitant anarchy and sectarian conflict, took in over a million Iraqi refugees, including more than 300,000 Christians. Where would they and Syria’s indigenous Christians find refuge? Do Washington’s holy warriors want them to leave and for Syria to be as purely Sunni as its favorite Mideast statelet, Saudi Arabia?
Here is what Marco Rubio, the telegenic new senator from Florida and 2012's inevitable GOP vice-presidential nominee has to say about our response to Syria:
Here is the reality. We either believe the founding principles of this nation or we do not. The founding principles of the United States are simple, and that is that our rights don’t come from our laws or from our government. They come from our creator, and that these rights extend to all men. And any government who denies these rights is an illegitimate government.
Anywhere in the world where that is challenged, the United States has to speak out against it. Otherwise, the very essence of our founding, our purpose for existing as a nation and our founding, is gone. This is an important issue. ~Marco Rubio
The dependable Daniel Larison takes this nonsense to task, here, finding this "the most egregious sort of meaningless moral posturing with some flourishes of American nationalism."
And in the combox is this perceptive observation:
For one thing, the fall of Assad would very likely lead to great pressure on the ancient Christian communities of Syria. Are the Christians of the Levant endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, or are those rights confined to landholding American Deists?
In another post, Larison continues:
[The President] is the chief magistrate of a federal republic. He is not a cheerleader or motivational speaker for the world’s dissidents. Giving protesters encouragement without any intention of lending them real support is a good way to keep getting protesters killed.
“Speaking out” in support of protesters is a phony pledge of solidarity that America is with them, when they know full well that America is not with them....Lending false hope to opposition movements in Syria and elsewhere is not admirable or principled. It is much more like a cruel trick.
It hasn’t even been two months since the Libyan war started, and already we have people agitating for starting the same process all over again. When it seemed that Obama had no intention of ordering military attacks on Libya, critics argued that he had to back up his demand that Gaddafi “must go” with action. Soon enough, Obama opted for intervention, and continues to insist that Gaddafi “must go.” If Obama addresses the Syrian crackdown in his speech on Thursday, will he refrain from making grandiose statements about the regime’s legitimacy, or will he issue another demand for an end to the current regime? All signs currently point to the administration’s unwillingness to make that demand, which is why it may be better if Obama says nothing or as little as possible about Syria.
Denunciations change nothing, so soon enough there will be agitation for “actions, not words,” and then there will be calls for “more decisive action” until people begin promoting the unthinkable and ridiculous option of launching attacks on government forces. As pressure builds, the government eventually adopts increasingly aggressive and confrontational policies. What everyone acknowledged to be “madness” yesterday soon becomes an unavoidable matter of preserving our “credibility.”
And finally, Justin Raimondo has some good thoughts here:
When you're hungry, and out of a job, familiar humiliations become intolerable. Israel's propagandists are telling us the Syrian government is behind the protests at the formerly quiet border between Syria and the Golan Heights: the Syrians are supposedly trying to divert attention from the Ba'athists' domestic atrocities. On the other hand, Damascus sounds a similar note, ascribing anti-government protests in its own streets to the work of the Mossad. These two may fight it out on the field of public diplomacy, and denounce each other as evil incarnate, yet both Tel Aviv and Damascus are basically on the same side – fighting against a human tide that threatens their carefully-constructed prison societies, once thought to be escape-proof and now revealed as rather rickety.
It could end in a new Arab Enlightenment, the restoration of a high civilization that fell into Ottomanized decay and eventual ruin, or it could climax in a orgy of self-immolation and a regional war that will plunge the Middle East back into the darkness. Yet it is possible to draw at least one conclusion from the current chaos, and it is this: the US must get out of the way.