01 July 2016
R. U. Syrious?
On Morning Joe today the host and his panel were bemoaning the situation in Syria and the global refugee crisis that has resulted from it. The sad part about their moaning is that they still think that the right thing for the U.S. to have done was, and the right thing to do now still is, to throw an overwhelming amount of American resources behind some moderate rebel group, enabling it to topple Assad, defeat the self-styled Islamic State, and stabilize the country if not the region. No matter how small or feeble (or deceptive) the moderate forces are in Syria, some Americans still believe that we could have made, and could yet make, all the difference. American hubris has not yet learned its lesson, nor has American ideology been revised. The first cause of the refugee crisis is the uprising against Assad, not Assad himself. The ultimate cause of the crisis is continued international support for the uprising. No amount of American support would have deterred Russia and Iran from shoring up their ally, Assad. President Obama may be weak in foreign policy, but no Republican would have intimidated President Putin or Ayatollah Khamenei into leaving Assad to his fate. Such a theoretical figure might have embroiled us in a far more dangerous war instead. Too few people in recent years have considered objectively whether the U.S. really would benefit from the fall of Assad. Too many take it for granted that he must always be an enemy so long as he remains a dictator and an enemy of Israel -- many still assume that dictators opposed Israel and whipped up hatred for the Jewish State only to prop up their own positions -- when the rise of the IS and similar groups ought to have sparked an American diplomatic revolution long ago. In retrospect, American opposition to two generations of largely secular strongmen in the Middle East looks like an epochal miscalculation, founded on little more than resentment of their anti-imperialist stance and economic nationalism, and a bias in favor of the Israeli over the Arab. In our ideological commitment to democracy Americans failed to ask whether democracy in the Middle East benefited them. Too many took it for granted that it did, whether because they assumed, as Obama does, that tyranny is the primary cause of regional instability or because they assumed, as neocons do, that liberalization -- political and economic -- civilizes and harmonizes all cultures. In either case, policy makers convinced themselves that the American people were always better off when a tyrant fell -- so long as socialists didn't overthrow him.In Syria, Assad hasn't even fallen, and the world is already self-evidently worse off for our efforts to bring him down. I don't think the reason for that is that we didn't try hard enough. Obama himself, despite his detractors, tried too hard, just as his predecessors tried too hard to intimidate or overthrow all the secular modernizing dictators who might have changed history for the better had we not swallowed our ideological pride and let them.