06 February 2012
The Syrian Question
To my knowledge, nothing in the United Nations Charter obliges members to have a "republican" form of government, as is guaranteed to states in the United States Constitution. There probably could not have been a United Nations as we know it had such a requirement been insisted upon, just as there probably could not have been a U.S. as we know it had the abolition of slavery been insisted upon in 1787. While the UN is pledged theoretically to a certain range of "human rights," it is not meant to favor any form of government over another. Its object is not to set or impose a standard for national government, but to prevent nations, as far as possible, from making war on one another. An implicit principle of comity obliges national governments not to question each other's sovereignty. On this understanding, to the extent that the resolutions advanced by the Arab League and the United States are openly hostile to the current Syrian government and designed to promote its replacement, Russia and China were right to veto them, however contemptible the Assad regime may be and however contemptible the attitude of the two powers toward resistance to tyranny. Foreign policy cannot be based on contempt; that leads you in the direction of Iran and Israel. Nor should the self-evident tyranny of Assad and the Syrian Baathists blind objective observers to the selectivity of American and Arab outrage, which focuses on Syria chiefly because Assad is an ally of Iran. That selectivity doesn't make Syria unobjectionable, but it does compel us to question the motives of Assad's enemies as well as his friends in the international community. For Americans, it becomes imperative to question the proposal of Sen. Lieberman that the anti-Syrian nations simply go around the UN and continue their regime-change agenda. It's not necessary to question the proposal on the cynical ground that toppling Assad might encourage extremist Islamism. It really boils down to the Golden Rule. America's capitalist regime surely appears wicked from a number of perspectives, but Americans would not consider foreign powers entitled to intervene in American politics on the basis of moral outrage against capitalism or neo-colonialism. Any American who urged a foreign power to aid him in regime change would be deemed a traitor. If treason means anything the concept must be applicable everywhere; it can't be mitigated on the ground that the government betrayed is a tyranny in someone's eyes. That doesn't mean that Syrian rebels should be shot as traitors. I wouldn't shed a tear if they did away with Bashar al-Assad, one of the world's uncrowned and unworthy kings. But toppling Assad and the Baath party is up to the rebels alone unless a nation wants to "man up" and openly declare war on Syria while accepting all the consequences of the declaration. That would be a war of choice, and ideally it would be up to a nation's people to choose. But with the Democratic and Republican establishments apparently united in a desire for regime change, and with all the shortcuts to war available to a President no less enamored than his predecessor with his power to strike from afar, such a declaration, not to mention the necessary debate, is unlikely -- though the people may still have the power to force a discussion in the streets, and a third party may have the chance to amplify the people's opposition at a crucial time.