28 May 2013
The Syrian insurrection has become an international conflict, if it had not been one already, when the Lebanese Hezbollah militia took the field in support of Bashar al-Assad's government. While Lebanon is right next door to Syria, it should be plain that Lebanon, not to mention a Lebanese faction, has no more right to intervene in that country than any other nation does. Hezbollah's intervention only threatens to stir up more widespread conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, as previewed by rocket attacks on Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods in Beirut, blamed on Sunni militias. For some, Hezbollah's involvement may serve as a new pretext for long-desired intervention by other powers. In the U.S., the President has been urged to intervene in the same way he intervened in the Libyan uprising -- and see where that got him, eventually. Republicans, neocons, and some liberals want the international community to step in and "liberate" Syria on humanitarian principles. For some advocates of intervention, geopolitical self-interest is at work. The hope is that whatever replaces Assad and the Baath party will be, if not necessarily more reasonable toward Israel -- that's too wild a dream for most dreamers, this time -- than at least less friendly toward Iran and less supportive of "terrorist" entities like Hezbollah. Even if it's hard for anyone to imagine liberal democracy blooming in Syria, many people still feel that toppling a tyrant like Assad would be an objectively good thing, if not a moral imperative. Neither Assad nor his father can be said to have been good tyrants. The nationalist pretensions that come with the Baath label were belied by their disproportionate patronage of and dependence upon their Alawite co-religionists. It has been tribalism by another name, and even those who dare imagine that dictatorship is necessary to modernize some nations will concede that dictatorial favoritism defeats the purpose. The reported calls among insurgents for the extermination of the Alawites is history's verdict on the Assad policy. The cure is presumed worse than the disease, however, and idealists viewing Syria from outside will want regime change to come without revenge against a minority sect. But we may still ask whether Syria can progress without some decisive use of force against tribalism, not to mention whether the world has a right to impose that condition upon the Syrians. No great power on earth has become one entirely through peaceful evolution. Arguably, no advanced nation has become one that way. Humanitarian intervention remains a noble idea, even if no nation or group or nations can be trusted to intervene with truly disinterested benevolence. But what if humanitarian intervention, even with the loftiest intention of preventing a war to someone's finish, doesn't really change history but only blocks it? You might still save lives this generation, but you might also have to risk your own again next generation to save theirs again. Someone who believes that government, both global and national, is mainly about keeping people alive may accept that task. But I get the impression that many people who don't believe that about government are advocating intervention in Syria. Others who do have something like that positive belief about government probably should be worrying more about keeping their own people alive during hard times. People who say we can't ignore what's happening in Syria probably are ignoring things that are more properly their business.