11 June 2014
Once again the world's liberals decided that a secular dictatorship was intolerable in some part of the world. It didn't help that the dictator in this case was an enemy of Israel. But the main thing was that he and his father oppressed their own people. So when "spring" came to Syria people of good will said the rebels must be supported, the dictator pressed to step down. He has not stepped down. Instead he has thumbed his nose at the world's liberals by holding another election that he won by a predictable if not prefabricated majority. Meanwhile the revolt continues, and everyone says, "we only support the good rebels" -- the ones we hope will be liberals like us. But the war inevitably empowers the most violent and ruthless, and their war knows no national border. Sunni extremists dream of a sharia state encompassing both Syria and Iraq: anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Shiite. Lately they're having better luck in Iraq. They've taken two major cities in as many days and the central, Shiite-dominated government seems powerless to stop them. Meanwhile, refugees by the scores of thousands flee east and north to escape any purge the jihadis may be planning. Naturally, some Americans want to blame Obama, mainly for being weak, while others want to blame his predecessor for destabilizing Iraq. But this doesn't happen, I think, if Obama didn't adopt Bush's principles and demand the end of the Syrian dictatorship. He's been criticized for not doing enough to end it, but he's probably done too much by giving any aid or comfort to any rebels. The point isn't whether he can pick good guys to support, but that destabilizing Syria in the spirit of an "Arab spring" is a stupid act of moral vanity. Liberals abhor dictatorship and too often nothing else matters to them. They still assume that "civil society" will fill any power vacuum, that an innate desire for democracy will assert itself everywhere eventually. These things will happen when they benefit people materially, but democracy comes with no guarantee of material benefits. Until then, if people can't compete they'll seek protection and pay with submission. We equate dictatorship with a sort of civil death, but for many people around the world dictatorship may be the only alternative to death, however unreliable dictators may prove. If there is no civil society on the ground already -- and that need not be the dictator's fault -- no one has any business aiding in the overthrow of the dictator unless he's murdering his own people on such a scale that any alternative would be better. That ought to be a simple test for future diplomats and defense departments. Is any alternative better than the Assad dynasty? For that matter, was any alternative better than Saddam Hussein? It's hard to tell today, and all along it was never for anyone but Syrians or Iraqis to judge. Anyone else's judgment condemns those countries to chaos.