A sober look at the con­fu­sion in As­sad’s Syria

It’s fan­tasy to think U.S. back­ing of anti-As­sad forces will lead to peace

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Wil­liam Layer Wil­liam Layer is a his­to­rian who cov­ered Air Force pres­i­den­tial op­er­a­tions dur­ing the early years of the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Was “Tom­a­hawk­ing” Syria for an al­leged gas at­tack jus­ti­fi­able ret­ri­bu­tion, mis­fea­sance, malfea­sance or just a mis­take? Was it a warn­ing to China and North Korea as some have ad­vanced? (This is the same line of think­ing that bomb­ing Hiroshima and Na­gasaki was re­ally aimed cau­tion­ing the Soviet Union.) Why would China, the “ce­les­tial king­dom,” pow­er­ful in her own right, pay at­ten­tion; why would North Korea, in the hands of a mad­man, even care?

Given the va­garies of the Mid­dle East, truth is the first and last ca­su­alty. The first ac­cu­sa­tion of a gas at­tack by Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad against rebel strongholds failed the smell test; it was more likely done by the regime’s en­e­mies. In the lat­est it­er­a­tion, is there con­clu­sive ev­i­dence of cul­pa­bil­ity? Maybe I missed it. It’s more likely that Mr. As­sad’s jets hit an ISIS chem­i­cal weapons dump, re­leas­ing the poi­son into the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods. So far, the al­le­ga­tions con­sist of words like “likely,” “leads to” and on and on in that vein. We are pre­sented with sup­po­si­tions and pos­si­bil­i­ties, but that is all.

Should we take Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis’ pro­nounce­ments at face value? Could he not be given mis­in­for­ma­tion? Could as­ser­tion of an As­sad gas at­tack fol­low the for­mula of the Tonkin Gulf in­ci­dent? Who prof­its from the gas at­tack? Cer­tainly not Mr. As­sad, who lived in Lon­don and knows full well the mil­i­tary power of the United States. Why would he, win­ning on the bat­tle­field, use gas, which he knows would bring on the op­pro­brium of the West and a mil­i­tary at­tack? Who prof­its then? Why not ISIS and its friends who, by blam­ing Mr. As­sad, might in­spire Amer­i­can might to re­move the great ob­sta­cle to their Dark Ages men­tal­ity?

Mr. As­sad is an Ale­wite, a Shia faction hereti­cal in the eyes of Sunni ISIS and, there­fore, their en­emy. As a Baathist, and there­fore a mod­ern­izer, he is also an­ti­thet­i­cal to those Mus­lims who wish to res­ur­rect a caliphate. The Baathist Party, which he rep­re­sents, was founded by Michel Afliq, a Chris­tian. It is a party that, in spite of its jum­ble of na­tion­al­ism, Ara­bism and so­cial­ism, has seen it­self as a bring­ing Arab so­ci­ety into the present, re­leas­ing it from the strait­jacket of an Is­lam mired in the 12th cen­tury.

Com­pound­ing their of­fenses, the As­sad fam­ily has pro­tected Chris­tians, whom the caliphate crowd see as in­fi­dels de­serv­ing of death. Since the fall of Sad­dam Hus­sein, they have never passed up the op­por­tu­nity to re­in­force their ha­tred of Chris­tian­ity or other Mus­lims. The press gives short shrift to the atroc­i­ties against Chris­tians in the Mid­dle East, and never re­ports on the ef­forts of Fran­cis­can monks in Aleppo to re­lieve suf­fer­ing caused by the civil war and the Mus­lim mili­tias. In short, if Mr. As­sad were to go, Ale­wites and Chris­tians would be on the ex­ter­mi­na­tion list. With no al­ter­na­tive other than the death for him and his sup­port­ers and clients, Mr. As­sad will hold on.

Knowl­edge of Syria by this ad­min­is­tra­tion and its pre­de­ces­sor is shal­low at best. T.E. Lawrence wrote in his “Seven Pil­lars of Wis­dom” that the Arab de­lights in chi­canery. In hos­pi­tal­ity, the Arabs can be ex­tremely gen­er­ous (as I ex­pe­ri­enced in Iraq), but was Lawrence right in say­ing that they were also “un­sta­ble as wa­ter” and that we de­lude “our­selves that per­haps peace might find the Arabs able … to de­fend them­selves with pa­per tools”?

The Syr­ian sit­u­a­tion am­ply sup­plies ex­am­ples of all. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy, enun­ci­ated by U.N. Am­bas­sador Samantha Power as a “duty to pro­tect” (i.e., U.S. in­ter­ven­tion in the “Arab Spring”), was a dan­ger­ous ab­sur­dity in lands whose un­der­cur­rents are un­fath­omable to the Western mind. It led to nearly los­ing Egypt to the Mus­lim Brother­hood and the un­con­sti­tu­tional at­tack on Libya, en­sur­ing chaos and then the mur­der of Moam­mar Gad­hafi, who was not a threat and who had kept a lid on the fa­nat­i­cal mur­der­ous rage of ISIS.

The his­tory of the Mid­dle East is one of blood­shed and op­pres­sion; this con­flict is just an­other in an ageold saga. To think that by back­ing anti-As­sad forces or re­mov­ing him from power will lead to a flow­er­ing of democ­racy and peace is a fan­tasy. It would be­hoove this ad­min­is­tra­tion to ex­am­ine the tu­mul­tuous French ex­pe­ri­ence in Syria un­der the League of Na­tions man­date; we are not deal­ing with An­glo-Sax­ons. Un­less the United States and the West is pre­pared to put troops on the ground, who would be first wel­comed and then shot at, it is ad­vis­able to stay out and make them sort it out on their own.

Knowl­edge of Syria by this ad­min­is­tra­tion and its pre­de­ces­sor is shal­low at best. T.E. Lawrence wrote in his “Seven Pil­lars of Wis­dom” that the Arab de­lights in chi­canery.

ILLUSTRATION BY NANCY OHA­NIAN

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