Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Syrian Question

A column in the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt General Paper), which is roughly the German equivalent of the New York Times, the nation's paper, lays out the pitfalls of military intervention in Syria by comparing that situation to Iraq and Afghanistan. In those two cases it was relatively easy for the US and its allies to achieve a quick military victory, Gunther Nonnenmacher points out, but the occupations and attempts to build democracy in those two countries have failed. The column was posted today in Watching America, the foreign press translation service that I link to in the right-hand column.

Those lessons are already being ignored when it comes to Syria. President Obama has resisted steady pressure from the right to get the US more military involved in Syria, especially from neocons, as in the example of New York Times columnist Jennifer Rubin. And as Rubin points out, with recent dire warnings in the press about increased Hezzbolah and Iranian involvement in Syria, and about the Syrian regime possibly turning the tide against rebel forces, Democrats in congress are beginning to desert the president, too.

The other argument against intervention in Syria has to do with sectarianism. As in Iraq, and also in Libya, Syria has been one of those countries where, despite what you think or thought about its ruler, sectarian divisions were suppressed and the people identified themselves as Iraqi or Libyan or Syrian, not as Sunni, Shia, Christian or Kurd. Religious fundamentalism was suppressed, and civil rights, although they weren't what we're used to here, were more respected than they are in, for example, Saudi Arabia.

Fortunately, the US public is overwhelmingly against a war in Syria, but public opinion won't necessarily deter the government, and that opinion is liable to change if  the government and the media start waging the kind of propaganda campaigns that paved the way for the wars against Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

If Bashar Assad is ousted, the situation in Syria won't improve and will more likely disintegrate. Whether the US and its allies try to import western style democracy there in the absence of the kind of institutions that facilitate it, like political parties and a free press, or whether it's left to devolve into competing tribal fiefdoms, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Syria doesn't end up worse off than it is now.


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