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Stability in Syria

JINSA Report #: 

April 26, 2011

The Obama administration says it may look for "targeted sanctions" on Junior Assad's Syria, and "condemns" the violence there, but - hey, look guys, it isn't Libya, for Pete's sake. Asked the difference, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "We had a Gaddafi regime that was moving against its own people in a coordinated military fashion and was about to assault a very large city on the promise that it would show...that city and its residents no mercy...We had an international consensus to act. We had the Arab League."

It wasn't quite an international consensus. In the Security Council, Russia, Brazil, India and Germany voted against the U.S.-led operation; that's a big chunk of the world's population and its rising economies. And if the Arab League says to NATO, "Yes, please. You guys take your military and go fight Gaddafi," that's good enough for Mr. Carney? And if Syria's government is smart enough not to announce that it was taking soldiers and tanks to assault the Syrian city of Deraa, which it did "in a coordinated military fashion" yesterday, and if Assad is smart enough not to broadcast his plans to kill his own citizens (120 Monday with 500 arrested), there's nothing we can do?

Something else appears to be going on; something they don't want to talk about. The enforced "stability" of Syria under Assad serves American and other interests.

Over the past week, The Washington Post ran four separate articles about groups or countries worried about the downfall of Assad: Syrian Christians, Israel, Golan Heights Druze and the United States. In each case, Assad was providing some "service" that could only continue as long as he rode roughshod over the rights of the rest of the country and of Lebanon. Christians and Druze (Golan Druze standing in for their brethren in Syria) believe an Islamist takeover would lead to their persecution, both being minorities in Syria that benefit from the militant secularism of the regime. Israel likes the quiet Golan border. While it recognizes that Syrian machinations in Lebanon in partnership with Iran make another Hezbollah-Israel war almost inevitable, Israel apparently would prefer that war to one directly with Damascus. The United States appears to fear "chaos" and maybe al Qaeda.

In each case the bottom line was, "Better the devil we know than the devil we don't."

There are two initial problems: first, it isn't always true that what follows repressive and deadly stability is worse; consider the transition from Nasser to Sadat. Second, "the devil you know" isn't immortal; you can't count on your pet dictator forever.

There is a third/fourth problem: As a practical matter, it makes the oppressed hate you for being on the side of their oppressor. When the change comes, and it will come, it would be better for the United States to hear, as it did from Soviet dissidents, "We always knew you were on our side and it helped us survive," than to read the recent Pew survey from Egypt.

Last week, Pew found only seven percent of Egyptians have "a lot" of confidence in President Obama and nine percent are "very" favorably disposed toward the United States. The negatives are 64 percent with "not too much" confidence or "none at all" in Obama and 79 percent "unfavorable" or "very unfavorable" toward the United States. We suspect many Lebanese would be less favorably disposed toward the United States and President Obama after the Hezbollah takeover of their country with nary a word of protest from us.

Finally, agreeing that other people should be oppressed, repressed, imprisoned and killed for your community or national interest is immoral.

There is nothing that Syria provides to the United States, Israel or its own minorities that justifies a lackadaisical attitude toward the government-controlled carnage going on there.

Or in Iran.

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