Iran — not Obama — is the real elephant in the room. Wish as we might, there is no civil society of a democratic nature or a culture of democracy that would allow us to create a Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East. There is a reason, after all, why only Israel — often the only nation Obama pressures — is the only real democracy in the region.
On the issue of the nature of the opposition to Assad in Syria, some observers have argued that a good part of the opposition is in fact secular and not Islamist. In the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth O’Bagy claims:
Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaeda die-hards. The jihadists pouring into Syria from countries like Iraq and Lebanon are not flocking to the front lines. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on consolidating control in the northern, rebel-held areas of the country.
From her own experience covering the front lines in Syria, she believes that “moderate opposition forces … continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime.” I know that our colleague Barry Rubin says this is because O’Bagy sees the Muslim Brotherhood as secular liberals, and they make up the very forces she writes about.
I have not been there, and can only report what this journalist writes. I hope she is correct and that Rubin is wrong. When she was in northern Syria last August, O’Bagy witnessed “nearly daily protests by thousands of citizens against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in areas of Aleppo.” I agree with her that it is in the U.S. interest to support whatever truly moderate forces still exist and to bolster their fight against the Assad tyranny.
Writing in Commentary, Abe Greenwald makes the following argument for intervention:
If you think not acting is good, look at what inaction has done so far: It’s allowed for more than 100,000 dead; the repeated use of chemical weapons; and the strengthening of Assad, and thus of Iran and Russia as rising powers who oppose an American-led global order. Perhaps worst of all, American inaction has reinforced the idea for thousands of Syrians (and Arabs and Muslims generally) that they should not look to America for help when fighting off tyrants. Even if one is not sentimental about such things, this is hugely problematic because it has driven these thousands into the arms of Islamist radicals they increasingly see as the only hope for support in fights of liberation. If this is the wisdom of restraint, we’ve become wise beyond comprehension.
I think Greenwald is correct. The United States has a role to play as a defender of a free and peaceful world. President Obama’s goal is to save face for himself; to appear that he has acted as he had promised after his self-imposed “red line” was crossed, and then to go back to his usual failed policies. His own aims for Syria are rather meaningless, and as Greenwald says, will only make things worse after the missiles fall.
But to do nothing harms not just Obama, but our country and our standing in the world. When push comes to shove, I still think we cannot afford to risk losing by doing nothing. Hence I still support the resolution in favor of a military strike in Syria.
image illustration courtesy shutterstock / Nneirda