Responses to the "Support Assad" Argument
by Daniel Pipes
My article "Support Assad" has elicited a number of responses, from mildly disapproving to severely and even insultingly so, by Zack Beauchamp in Think Progress, John Allen Gay in The National Interest, Daniel Larison in The American Conservative, Max Read in Gawker, Omid Safi in Religion News Service, and Jonathan Tobin in Commentary. Ah well, the commentariat has been wrong many times before. (April 13, 2013)
Apr. 14, 2013 update: Jacques Neriah begins an analysis titled "Stalemate in the Syrian Civil War" with this observation:
This interpretation runs against the prevailing consensus that Assad is losing, but should Neriah be correct, then there is no need to support Assad – which would, of course, be my preference. I advocate helping him only if the Syrian regime is in danger of falling.
Apr. 17, 2013 update: To my surprise, the Obama administration is following my advice. See "U.S. Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now."
May 5, 2013 update: The weirdest critique of my column (in Turkish) came two days ago from Adnan Oktar on his A9 television channel: titled "Daniel Pipes Suriye'de çocuk ve kadınların ölmesine göz yummamalı," it features four heavily made-up and silent women listening to Oktar (also known by the pseudonym of Harun Yahya) criticizing me as a bad Christian. May 12, 2013 update: The Sunday Times (London) has some fun with Yahya's babes, Ece Koc, Ceylan Ozbudak, Aylin Kocaman and Ebru Altan, at "'Versace Muslims' stir anger of Turkey's faithful."
May 11, 2013 update: The Assad regime has found a second wind. If that is so, then I raise the issue of supporting the rebels against it.
Aylin Kocaman, an analyst on Adnan Oktar's A9 channel.
Aylin Kocaman, an analyst on Adnan Oktar's A9 channel.
The good thing about this article, coming out of the Middle East, is its non-venomous tone; the bad, its many inaccuracies. (Quiz: Read my column, then her response and find 10 factual errors. Hint #1: Kocaman writes that "Things are not working out as Pipes prognosticated," yet there is not a single prognostication in my column.) Kocaman's central point is that, were I a Middle Easterner, I could never hold the views that I do:
Strong stuff, but here's what kind of Daniel Pipes a Middle Eastern version of myself, someone with my views, would be: I would despise both the Assad regime and the jihadi rebels even more than I do as an American, for I would have directly suffered at both their hands. The regime would have tormented me since 1970 to further its greedy totalitarianism and the rebels would have turned my life into hell over the past two years in its effort to impose an Islamic state. In this case, I would be even more fervidly hostile to both parties and even more eager (quoting my column) to support the "non-Baathist and non-Islamist elements in Syria, helping them offer a moderate alternative to today's wretched choices and lead to a better future."
May 25, 2013 update: Adnan Oktar, responded to these updates, has admonished me in a 14-minute tirade, "Mr. Daniel Pipes should promote peace." The video of his performance is on the A9 website; as translated by one of his staff, Sinem Tezyapar, the text of his comments is also available.
(1) Mr. Oktar and I agree on wishing to see peace in Syria. I also appreciate his compilation of passages about peace in the Bible and the Koran.
(2) Given the reality of two immoral, cruel, and brutal forces contending for power in Syria, one must think strategically, not piously. Mr Oktar's insistence on reducing the clash of forces in Syria to rights and wrongs has little utility when both sides are repugnant. We must think through what a victory by the Assad regime or by the rebels would mean for Syrians and the rest of the world; and then, I suggest, let's compare those scenarios with the prospect of the two sides continuing to decimate the other. I find that last option less awful than the others. For Mr. Oktar to persuade me otherwise, he needs to offer more than scriptural citations.
(3) "The AKP espouses democracy and human rights and love… It is wrong to mention the AKP in the same breath as them [referring to radical groups]. … if the AKP mentality were in charge in Damascus the place would have become one of milk and honey." As a lawful Islamist himself, Mr. Oktar naturally dislikes my lumping Turkey's Erdoğan in with and Iran's Khamene'I, then calling them two versions of the same radical utopian movement. And while I do not doubt that the AKP in Damascus would do a far better job of governance than the Assads, I also have no doubt about it deploying a satellite Syrian state against the West.
(4) "Allah commands in Torah to make peace between fighting sides" "a Jewish person … should be obeying the command of Allah"; "you should speak as a Jew and as a believer in Allah"; and "Almighty Allah says in the Torah that Moshiach will triumph, not with force, in other words not with tanks and guns, but with the power of Allah." These eccentric formulations can be read two contrary ways:
I hear (b) much more than (a) in these statements. And this makes me cautious about Mr. Oktar's many declarations of good will toward non-Muslims.
May 27, 2013 update: (1) In a reply to my May 21 comments, Aylin Kocaman advocates an Islamic Union and then notes that "The idea of an 'Islamic Union' may seem frightening at first to a Westerner, especially to those who may harbor prejudices towards Islam." I don't harbor prejudices toward Islam but, frankly, I am frightened by the idea of such a union, which is just a different way of saying "caliphate." No, the era of a single Muslim ruler over Dar al-Islam ended over twelve hundred years ago and has no place in the modern state order.
(2) In a reply to my May 25 comments, Adnan Oktar spoke again about me on his television station (video and text both available in Turkish and English). Perhaps most noteworthy is his indicating that, in response to my point (4) above, he really does mean (a) rather than (b), that he "would never say; we are superior, you are inferior. I respect [the Christian and Jewish] faiths." I am glad to hear that, even if my suspicions of Islamic supremacism do still linger.
June 5, 2013 update: Bret Stephens disagrees with my position on Syria at "The Muslim Civil War: Standing by while the Sunnis and Shiites fight it out invites disaster" and I reply to him today at "When Sunni and Shiite Extremists Make War."
Aug. 28, 2013 update: Nahum Barnea of Yediot Ahronot lays out the argument about stalemate being the best option:
He then goes on to refute this argument:
Wait, where's the refutation? Granted, "any outcome could be dangerous for the stability of the region and for Israel's security," but he does not establish that stalemate is worse than an Assad or a jihadi victory. Indeed, he seems to be indicating that stalemate is preferable to either of those outcomes.
Sep. 12, 2013 update: According to Judi Rudoren of the New York Times, when it comes to Israeli opinion about Syria,
Oct. 27, 2013 update: Abdulrahman al-Rashed of Al-Arabiya, a brave thinker whose work I have long admired, disagrees today with my "let them both lose" argument for Syria in "Getting rid of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah" (original Arabic here). After summarizing my argument as "it's better for the fighting to continue until Hezbollah and al-Qaeda destroy each other so the U.S. can get rid of two fierce enemies," he explains that this is wrong because these are ideological groups:
To which, I have several responses:
For these reasons, I stand my ground and hope the Turkish-backed Sunni jihadis long do battle with the Iranian-backed Shi'ite jihadis.
Nov. 20, 2013 update: Ralph Peters notes that "Although the old-school leaders of al Qaeda still rage against the US and jihadists welcome any chance to harm us, look at who the terrorists actually kill. We're not the main target of Sunni extremists these days. Iran, along with its allies, tops the list."
Jan. 2, 2014 update: According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Israelis are quite content with the present strategic situation in Syria:
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