There is no point in supporting an opposition that’s going to procure a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists! That’s the issue: the United States should do everything possible to help moderates — both defected officers and liberal politicians — gain the upper hand. It should work closely with the Kurds and press hard to make sure that Christians are protected and that the opposition (or at least parts of the opposition responsible) will be punished if it commits massacres.
Is that so hard to see?
But guess what? Senator Marco Rubio also never mentions the Islamism issue in his article on how the United States should intervene in Syria. He had better get an advisor who knows something about the Middle East fast, or he may end up as another John McCain on the Middle East.
Second, Vali Nasr has some good points in a New York Times op-ed, but I perceive two very big flaws. One of them is a warning:
If the Syrian conflict explodes outward, everyone will lose: it will spill into neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Lebanon and Iraq in particular are vulnerable; they, too, have sectarian and communal rivalries tied to the Sunni-Alawite struggle for power next door.
Really? The issue is not that the conflict is going to spill over but that it is part of a Sunni-Shia battle that will be a major feature of the region in the coming decades. Lebanon and Iraq are merely other fronts in this battle, and whatever happens in Syria isn’t going to start some new problem in those countries.
The question is merely who wins in Syria. A Sunni victory in Syria would empower a moderate-led Sunni community in Lebanon against Hizballah. As for Iraq, another Sunni power will make that government unhappy, but isn’t going to intensify already-existing sectarian tensions there. And Kurdish autonomy in Syria isn’t going to set off a Kurdish-Turkish war in Turkey, either.
But it is dangerous to pretend that a solution in Syria will make the Sunni-Shia battle go away. The most likely change is a post-Assad regime that would strengthen the Sunni side in the regional picture. That’s good if you feel Iran is the main threat but bad if you worry about growing Sunni Islamism.