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Count Me Out on Syria

There are good reasons to go into Syria, but far better ones to stay out.

Let us review a few of them. Syria is a humanitarian crisis with over one million refugees and 70,000 dead. But there are similar outrages in Mali, Somalia, and the Sudan. Why no calls to go there as well? Would U.S. troops, planes, or massive shipments of weapons stop the killing, or simply ensure endless cycles of death following the Assad departure? Will Syria’s Christians and other minorities become worse off with or without Assad?

More importantly, we do not at this late stage know which terrorist is a pro-Western Google-type, and which is a hard-core jihadist. The history of the Middle East in particular (see Iran in 1980) and world history in general (cf. France, 1794 or Russia, 1917) suggests that the more extreme, better organized revolutionary zealots, even when in the minority, usually win out over the moderate and sensible reformers in the post-war sorting out and sizing up. There are not many Washingtons, Jeffersons, or Madisons in the annals of revolutionary history.

When Assad goes, the postbellum mess will either go straight to the sham election of a Mohammed Morsi type, who will try to suspend the very constitution that brought him to power, or we will witness round two of Libyan-type violence. The bitter remedy for either, of course, is an Afghanistan or Iraq occupation, in which Americans spend blood and treasure to teach locals not to be their tribal selves. But that third alternative is absolutely politically unsustainable.

Of course, there are also strategic reasons for toppling Assad. How wonderful to see Hezbollah lose their Iranian-arms conduit, or to remove Syria from the Iran-Hezbollah axis. But is that not happening now anyway?

Apparently Israel thinks so. As I understand, their new cynical but strategically adept policy runs something like the following: now and then when Assad shows signs of recovery, or more bloodlust, or renewed interest in bringing down the region with him, bomb his assets just a little bit to refigure the score. That confuses everyone in Syria: do rebels damn or thank Israel, or both? Do Sunni nations smile or scowl? Does Assad retaliate and deplete his arsenal that is so critical to killing his fellow Arabs? Will rebels join with Assad against Israel, or remember that it helped them a bit when on the downside? In short, so far America has not intervened, and Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are all three worse off for it.

Well apart from Benghazi, Susan Rice and Samantha Power’s Libya is a blueprint for nothing. This time around we will not get UN approval after assuring Russia and China last time that our “humanitarian aid” and “no-fly zones” did not entail ground support, which of course it immediately did. Do we want again to ignore the U.S. Congress and seek permission instead from the UN and Arab League?  Was the murder of Americans in Benghazi preferable to the so-called "new Gaddafi,” whom everyone from John McCain to the Europeans were suddenly fond of as a “reformer” intent on handing power over to his Westernized progeny?

And who not long ago said Bashar al-Assad was a “reformer”?

And who visited Syria in 2007 while Americans were dying in Iraq from jihadists harbored in Syria? And who blasted Bush for alienating Syria by ostracizing such an otherwise eager interlocutor (“The road to Damascus is the road to peace”)?