Posted on 02-06-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The Arab Spring toppled long standing autocrats in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen.  For a while it looked like the al-Khalifas of Bahrain would ease the suppression of their Shiite majority (this blogger was among those caught up in premature excitement), but that hope has been crushed with Saudi military intervention.  Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad is showing he is a chip off the old block by responding to protests with a iron fist.

The bloodbath in Syria has erased any illusions that Bashar al-Assad could be a reformer (and made laughably timed puff pieces like this one about his wife Asma even more ridiculous).  The Alawite regime is and has always been a brutal military dictatorship.  It has hosted assorted anti-Israel terrorist groups, held Lebanon in vassalage for almost two decades and is Iran’s only remaining friend in the Arab world.  The massacre last week in Houla has brought renewed calls from a motley bunch for military intervention.

And this is truly a motley bunch.  You have bellicose American Senators like John McCain (who 4 years ago seemed willing to get into a shooting war with Russia in support of an autocratic and bellicose Georgian regime).  You get neo-cons tossing out laughable justifications.  You have human rights do-gooders who insist that the world cannot stand idly by.  And then you have Saudi Arabia (fresh off suppressing the Shiite protests in Bahrain) bleating cries of human rights.

Of these, the Saudis are the most cynical.  Syria is one of the few (other than Iraq and Yemen) Shiite Arab regimes.  When you factor in the Iranian alliance of the Alawite regime and that many of the protestors in Syria are Sunni, the Saudi human rights concerns appear primarily sectarian.

The Libyan intervention should also not serve as a template for a military intervention by the United States in Syria.  The Syrian army is far more equipped, Syrian society is far more diverse and stratified and the military commitment will approach what was needed in Iraq.


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana


In fact, it is fascinating to see how quickly people have forgotten the lessons of Iraq.  The fall of Saddam was followed by the ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population out of parts of Baghdad and the dispersal of the Christian minority in Iraq into forced exile.  The Syrian ethnic quilt is far more confusing than Iraq in ethnicity and religion.

One notable characteristic of the Arab Spring has been the reluctance of religious minorities to trust their fate to popular democracy.  The regimes in Egypt and Syria (or even Saddam’s Iraq) were not beacons of religious tolerance but they were/are markedly more secular than their successors or likely successors.  The opposition to the Assads has often had a heavy Sunni Islamist tinge and the Christian, Alawite and other minorities appear to have been largely lukewarm to the protests – the Alawites in particular must be quaking in their boots at the retribution that will likely follow when the Alawite Assads fall.

This does not mean that the protests are not justified and no apologia for the Assads is intended.  However, any interventionists should be prepared for an ethnic bloodbath and population transfer that will likely dwarf what happened in post-Saddam Iraq.  An added complication is the absence (or lack of knowledge) of an alternative leadership that could replace the Assads.

Finally, and to put it crudely, this is not America’s fight.  As the United States ends a decade long commitment to the Iraqi blunder it makes no sense for it to be sucked into another invasion of a Baathist regime in support of a fractured, incoherent and leaderless opposition and reaping yet another bloody ethnic whirlwind.  If Turkey (wouldn’t the Arab Syrians just love an occupation by their former imperialist overlord *snark*), Saudi Arabia (whose historic track record against well armed regimes is to talk loudly and let someone else do the fighting) or France (who ran out of bombs fighting Gaddafi’s weak Libyan military) want to take the lead, be my guest.  Unlike (yet another chest thumping) Senator Rubio, I think it is time for America to roll back the role of global gendarme rather than continue on a course of unsustainable global overreach that will drive us into bankruptcy faster than Barack Obama’s mythical spending increases.

President Obama please continue your work in keeping us out of the Syrian quagmire.

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