Sunday, June 17, 2012

Clearest and Briefest Possible Summary of the Situation in Syria

By Barry Rubin

There are three possible outcomes to the Syrian civil war:

1. Assad continues in power. This is bad as he is allied with Iran and Hizballah and attacks Israel through Lebanon. On the plus side, however, the regime will continue to be weak and unlikely to attack Israel directly. The regime will also continue to be anti-American in every way.

2. Assad is overthrown by the Muslim Brotherhood which sets up a Sunni Islamist dominated government. This is worse. Such a regime is likely to believe--mistakenly--that it can attack U.S. interests and Israel with impunity. The positive side is that this would constitute a major defeat for Iran.

3. Assad is overthrown by forces that lead to a regime of moderates, led by Sunni liberals, allied with Druze and Kurdish nationalists and with Christians. That would be better. Remember that only 60 percent of Syrians are Sunni Muslim Arabs and the Brotherhood has always been far weaker in Syria than in Egypt.
The most likely outcome: 1, continuation of status quo.

What should West do? Try for 3.

What is the West, and especially the United States, doing? Vacillating between 1, don't give Assad too hard a time, and 3, let Turkey--which favors option 2--take the lead and support the pro-Islamist Syrian National Council (SNC).

Does saying the West should go for 3 and help the moderates do any harm? No, because the Obama Administration isn't going to pay attention and by the time the next president of the United States is inaugurated even if that is Mitt Romney it will probably be too late.

So let's tell the truth about the situation that exists and call for the best policy but be totally aware that this isn't going to happen.

Note 1: If your view is, "Let them kill each other forever," aside from the moral implications of cheering the deaths of thousands of civilians and a lot of people who really want a moderate democracy, this civil war won't last forever.
Note 2: If your view is, "They're all Islamists so let Assad stay in power," you'll probably get your wish.

Note 3: If your view is that Assad is better because his regime is "secular" you are ten years out of date. Sure, Assad isn't an Islamist but his policy has been to do everything possible to support Hamas, Hizballah, Iran. He also encouraged the rise of radical Sunni Islamist preachers  at home. Read any of his speeches and they portray him as the leader of the Arab "resistance," all of whose forces nowadays outside Syria are Islamists.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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