My article today, "Stay out of the Syrian Morass," has evoked a number of comments. Some responses:
Jonathan Tobin wrote a refutation at the Commentary weblog, "Contentions." The key paragraph reads:
Assad's survival will mean not just more Syrian slaughter but will be a huge victory for his Iranian allies that will strengthen their position enormously. One way or another, the West needs to prevent that from happening. The reasons for not doing something about Syria are like those for not doing something about the Iranian nuclear threat. The consequences of intervention will be messy and possibly awful. Yet the alternative is far worse.
My reply: Yes, Assad's survival will be a boost to the mullahs in Tehran, but (1) it's unlikely to happen and (2) the prospect of a new, aggressive Islamist regime ruling from Damascus does not inspire me to want to help it reach power. Both it and Assad are, to use Tobin's word, "awful."
That being the case, unless Western powers are prepared to impose their own will in Syria, it's better to stand aside and not be responsible what comes next, better not to be in any way morally implicated in any of their actions. Also, and this is not a minor point: when both sides have murderous intentions toward us, why put American lives at risk?
Reader Jim Evans writes at National Review Online that "Mr. Pipes fails to mention that Christians who make up 10% of the Syrian population or about two million Christians … generally either support Assad or don't want the violence of the terrorists. ... Yes, Assad is a dictator, but killing innocent Christian women and children is immoral." My reply: Correct, I did not mention the Syrian Christians or other minorities, all of whom are in greater jeopardy due to Islamist advances. However great my concern for their welfare, I do not believe that their predicament warrants a U.S.-backed intervention.
Two further points on this general topic of humanitarian intervention: Along with Max Boot and Michael O'Hanlon, I agree that the U.S. government should create a foreign legion; for me, its main benefit lies in permitting Washington to deploy forces for humanitarian purposes without fear of a backlash due to casualties. That said, this legion should be deployed to the very worst humanitarian crises - which might not include Syria at all but rather such failed states as Somalia, Chad, the Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. (How many readers are aware that over 5 million were estimated killed during the decade 1998-2007 in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to a civil war in that country?)
A reader suggests (in a private note to me) that working with the future leaders of Syria will win their gratitude and improve future relations with them: My reply: Intense skepticism. Recall what happened within days of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Here is how I described sentiments at the time:
Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites chanted "No to America, No to Saddam, Yes to Islam" a few days ago, during pilgrimage rites at the holy city of Karbala. Increasing numbers of Iraqis appear to agree with these sentiments. They have ominous implications for the coalition forces. Gratitude for liberation usually has a short shelf life, and Iraq will be no exception. As a middle-aged factory manager put it, "Thank you, Americans. But now we don't need anybody to stay here anymore."
Likewise, gratitude in Syria will be brief and superficial.
"stranchan" argues at DanielPipes.org that "some sort of non-political intervention should be implemented to help save the lives of these poor people." My reply: Yes, humanitarian aid (but not the sort that we saw in Libya) is a good idea, such as food, tents, and medicines.
While on the topic of non-political intervention: the West should keep a close eye on the Syrian WMD and make sure that they do not slip away. Indeed, it might even be possible to strike a deal with the Assad government to take control of them.
(June 13, 2012)
June 15, 2012 update: A diminishment in Erdoğan's popularity - another reason to stay out of the Syrian imbroglio, inadvertently pointed out by Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy:
Erdoğan will demand help from Washington to end the Syrian regime's patronage of the PKK. This is because Erdoğan, like Obama, has election fever. The Turkish leader wants to become the country's first popularly elected president in polls to be held in 2013 or 2014. … Should al-Assad continue to reign despite Erdoğan's outspoken support for regime change, this will tarnish the Turkish leader's image as the tough guy who gets things done, the very image that has earned him respect and helped him win three successive elections since 2002.
A senior member of Hamas' military wing, Kamal Hussein Ghanaja, was assassinated in Damascus, most likely on Tuesday, according to reports from Arab media outlets Wednesday. Ghanaja, also known as Nizar Abu Mujahed, was, according to one report, shot to death in his apartment in the Syrian capital by unidentified assailants, who then burned the apartment.
June 30, 2012 update: Ghanaja turns out to be just one Palestinian terrorist recently killed in Syria: for others and an analysis of the general situation, see Rod Nordland and Dalal Mawad, "Palestinians in Syria Are Reluctantly Drawn Into Vortex of Uprising" in the New York Times.