Bitches And Shills For Syria

2 May

Syria chemical weaponThe Onion is now America’s “bellwhether“.

…The Onion is not exactly becoming a comedic arm of Bill Kristol–style neoconservatism or the liberal interventionism of Anne-Marie Slaughter. Nevertheless, its shift on Syria is notable, if only because the publication often serves as a bellwether of elite attitudes. Its Syria pieces have been very funny and well executed, but the reason they pack an emotional punch is because they rely on the presumption of a shared belief—on the part of both the audience and the authors—that of course the United States should be doing more in Syria. As the administration reportedly weighs new steps aimed at ousting Bashar al-Assad, the question of how this decision is portrayed in mass-media outlets—even satirical ones—is very much worth watching.

Well, here’s how Jon Stewart portrayed it.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said Sunday that the U.S. should intervene because it has never sat back while thousands of civilians were killed by regimes.

“Thank you,” Stewart said sarcastically. “Well, obviously except for, you know, Rwanda. And Darfur, and Bosnia, and Cambodia — point taken, point taken. We as America have never let something like that happen before — in Syria with this particular Assad.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, urged Obama to arm Syrian rebels — as long as they’re “the right people.”

“Oh, the right weapons to the right people!” Stewart quipped. “Maybe we could do background checks.”

Stewart got to the heart of the problem — nobody seems to want to send U.S. troops to Syria. But to invoke international action, Russia has to be persuaded, leading Stewart to say that “we are f—ed.”

“A little more complicated than the good ol’ days, isn’t it, fellas?” Stewart said. “Back when you could just invade a country because a guy named ‘Curve Ball’ told you there were mobile biological weapons laboratories in Iraq. It’s as though that little misadventure made all of us a little more cautious as to what constitutes the crossing of a red line.”

Never mind, though, that Americans seem to think jobs and the American economy are more important than Syria – that one percent who consider foreign policy important, and whatever “Other” means are enough to justify armed intervention, I guess. Daniel Larison points out that Americans only seem to voice any opinion about Syria because they aren’t informed about what the implications of the tepid support they can’t be bothered to specify – perfect manure for any politician’s plans.

Anne-Marie Slaughter argues, no more Rwandas.

Heather Hurlburt asks us to consider the importance of democratization in the region.

Lionel Beehner ties up all these arguments.

A second line of criticism stems from international relations literature on reputation costs. If a leader draws a line in the sand and then fails to follow through on his threat, presumably others will think he is weak and thus be less likely to be deterred from making future provocations. In Arms and Influence, Thomas Schelling argues that a state’s reputation for resolve “is one of the few things worth fighting over.” Broken commitments affect our future ability to credibly deter aggression and hurt our relationships with and promises made to allies. Not everyone agrees with this line of logic. Daryl Press, for instance, believes that power is what matters to make threats credible, not a state’s past actions. Jonathan Mercer also discounts the importance of reputation and resolve during foreign crises. In other words, threats are situational, and so Obama’s backing down on Syria would not signal to the Iranians that he is weak and unwilling to enforce red lines drawn.

I disagree with this logic. On Syria, if the United States does not either intervene or escalate its pressure on the regime, the message is clear: First, we are helpless to do anything, so dictators, go nuts. Second, if you have WMD you have a blanket of immunity from outside intervention, so be sure to rearm those chemical, biological, and nuclear stockpiles. (Daniel Larison points out the limits of that logic.) Finally, to Iran – any red line we draw in the sand is basically just suggestive. Go on spinning those centrifuges because we really don’t mean what we say. Obama should either a) not draw red lines or make promises he has no intention of keeping; or b) follow through on his ultimatum by gradually tightening the noose around Assad, which could see fence-sitters among the Syrian population such as the Christians and Kurds switch sides, create dissension within Assad’s inner circle, and weaken the more extremist elements within the opposition. Presumably a more engaged US will strengthen secular groups within the opposition, by diverting funds and arms away from the Al-Nusra Front.

To be sure, a US or NATO-led intervention is not some panacea that will paper over all the sectarian grievances, personal feuds, or other triggers for postwar violence in Syria. It will hasten the fall of the regime, but not guarantee a smooth aftermath. In fact, it could easily portend a messier post-Assad Syria, simply because it will leave in placed several armed actors whose relative power will be left unclear, tipping the scales toward those who are best organized and most willing to use violence, which in this case are Islamist parties (There’s a reason why the Bolsheviks took power after Russia’s civil war).

Even still, a democratic Syria run by Islamists is preferable to both the status quo of civil war or a return to a Baathist dictatorship at peace with its neighbors. The likelihood of a secular democrat coming to power are virtually nil. If that is the lofty expectation of US senators pushing Obama to intervene, then we should stay out. We should intervene because it will save lives, improve our standing in the region and our ability to project power and dictate events, and weaken Iran (Though a Sunni-led Syria does not necessarily guarantee it will join the Saudi-led bloc against Iran given how the region’s dynamics make for strange bedfellows, but presumably it will weaken ties with Tehran, which helps our leverage during nuclear negotiations).

Speaking of religious factions in the region, that’s just bullshit.

Unlike how some orientalists prefer to analyze the situation, the efforts to curb Iranian enthusiasm for regional domination is not due to it being a Shiite state and Saudi Arabia being Sunni.

There is also a widely-believed thought that Saudi Arabia is now acting against Assad because the latter happens to hail from the Alawite minority, while Syria is predominantly Sunni. This is laughable because the same regime has been ruling Syria for 42 years, so anyone who actually believes this is insinuating that it took the Saudis four decades to find out the Assad family’s religious background.

The Saudis and the Assads go back a long way. However, the relation was much better when the late Hafez al-Assad was alive.
“Hafiz rarely said yes, but when he did say yes, he meant it. On the other hand, Bashar always says yes, but he never means it,” the Saudi source told Al Arabiya.

“Bashar is politically immature and a pathological liar. He had full Saudi support when he first assumed office, but the support quickly began to vaporize until none was left at all following the assassination of (former) Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.”

Hariri was a moderate Sunni leader whom Saudi Arabia nurtured and supported. His rise to power came as a result of the Saudi-brokered Taif Accord of 1989, which effectively ended 15 years of Lebanese civil war. Syria was responsible for Lebanon’s security as per the Taif Accord, which is why upon the assassination, fingers were quickly pointed at Damascus and its ally, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Albeit a purely Shiite group, Hezbollah enjoyed wide support across various Lebanese sects – including Hariri’s – when it was regarded as a resistance movement fighting the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Today, it is labeled a terrorist organization, and reportedly continues to receive weapons from Iran through Syria.

Upon the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah began consolidating power internally. It forced Lebanon into a war with Israel in 2006, and in 2008 it used its arsenal against its own people to occupy Beirut.

Former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri was killed in a massive explosion in central Beirut on February 14, 2005 (AFP)

The crisis ended after a political agreement was reached, but there is nothing to stop Hezbollah taking over Beirut (or attacking Israel) again. As such, the group continues to be a double-edged bargaining chip for both the Iranians and the Syrians.

Just this week, Bahraini lawmakers voted to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The group, along with Iran, have been accused of stirring trouble and promoting sectarian strife between the Sunni and Shiite populations of Bahrain.

As such, it could be argued that the true face of the Saudi-Iranian confrontation is not a Sunni-Shiite one, but an Arab-Persian one, whereby the oil-rich successor to the Persian Empire is using its allies in Syria and Hezbollah to destabilize and control Arab nations. Needless to say, what did not help limit Iran’s regional ambitions was the miserable American failure in handling post-Saddam Iraq.

Following a swift and successful military operation that toppled the long-standing regime of Saddam Hussein in less than a month in 2003, the U.S. administration at the time adopted a series of extremely ill-advised strategies that did nothing except give Tehran more influence over its partly-Shiite neighbor.

With all of this in mind, when it became clear that – due to Iranian and Russian support – Assad was winning the war he is waging against his own people, the Saudis decided they needed a plan B.

Please, someone tell me why the American military has to be the Saudis’ bitch? Even if you don’t like Iran, isn’t the United States supposed to be the referee in the region? Even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is skeptical about that.

This is a civil war, messy by any standard. Anyone who is looking for a cheap, feel-good campaign just empowers players whom Americans should learn to put on hold. It’s not immoral to consider what Americans want and should want. It is immoral just to follow what the Saudis want, especially when Riyadh’s guy could be more odious than the Assad regime.

Two final opinions: Joshua Landis: Syria is not important for America.

And, Stephen M. Walt.

The overwhelming majority of people who have doubts about the wisdom of deeper involvement in Syria — including yours truly — are not “isolationist.” They are merely sensible people who recognize that we may not have vital interests there, that deeper involvement may not lead to a better outcome and could make things worse, and who believe that the last thing the United States needs to do is to get dragged into yet another nasty sectarian fight in the Arab/Islamic world. But many of these same skeptics still favor American engagement in key strategic areas, support maintaining a strong defense capability, and see some U.S. allies as assets rather than liabilities.

Hawks like to portray opponents of military intervention as “isolationist” because they know it is a discredited political label. Yet there is a coherent case for a more detached and selective approach to U.S. grand strategy, and one reason that our foreign policy establishment works so hard to discredit is their suspicion that a lot of Americans might find it convincing if they weren’t constantly being reminded about looming foreign dangers in faraway places. The arguments in favor of a more restrained grand strategy are far from silly, and the approach makes a lot more sense to than neoconservatives’ fantasies of global primacy or liberal hawks’ fondness for endless quasi-humanitarian efforts to reform whole regions.

Syria is more important for the Israelis and Saudis than the United States, whether that’s with a no-fly zone or boots on the ground. That makes it very convenient for the various tribes in Washington to use, to get funding for their pet projects, because no one cares enough to stop them.

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One Response to “Bitches And Shills For Syria”

  1. anakzaman garutselatan 3 May 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Reblogged this on ludipanyang.

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