Syria is an ugly mess, and anyone who tells you that they know what’s going to happen there doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. President Assad, having apparently subdued Homs, may succeed in putting down the nationwide rebellion by force, or he may not. If Assad falls, here’s my wild guess about where Syria is headed: the Syrian armed forces, or what’s left of them, will hold a lot of high cards. The opposition, a convoluted bloc of Islamist and secular types, will end up being dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. And then, like Egypt, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood will struggle to find some sort of working accord, leaving everyone else, including secular, left and nationalist opposition groups, out in the cold.
But like I said, I don’t know what I’m talking about either.
What I do know is that it’s not enough for the United States not to arm the Syrian rebels. The Obama administration has to oppose plots by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to arm the rebels, too.
Arming Syria’s rebels—whoever the hell they are—will turn a bloody confrontation into a Lebanese-style, or Iraq-style civil war. It will turn Syria into a battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Shiites and Alawites, on one hand, and Sunnis, on the other. Since the start of the Arab Spring, when Saudi Arabia was enraged over the fall of President Mubarak in Egypt, the Saudis have poured billions into Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and elsewhere to make sure that reactionary forces come out on top, and they’re doing pretty well. But Syria is a tougher nut to crack.
So far, the Obama administration has declined to aid the rebels, which deserves praise and credit where credit is due. Not that Obama won’t change his mind, especially if the humanitarian intervention crowd that pushed for war in Libya, gets the upper hand. As of now, the support for US intervention in Syria is coming from the usual suspects, the neoconservatives et al. They’re seeking either direct military intervention a la Libya, the creation of militarized “humanitarian aid corridors,” or direct military aid to the so-called Syrian Free Army, which may or may not be based in NATO’s Turkey. Any of these are terrible, terrible ideas.
In today’s Washington Post, Stephen Hadley, Mr. Invade Iraq, writes:
The moral case for arming Syrians seeking their freedom has become overwhelming.… Surely few people are more entitled to the means to defend themselves in the face of escalating regime brutality.
And writing in the execrable Weekly Standard, Lee Smith excoriates Hillary Clinton and Obama for explaining the reasons why, so far, the administration hasn’t acted forcefully against Syria, adding:
The administration won’t arm the Free Syrian Army, because backing proxy forces to fight on behalf of American interests, according to administration officials, is just too complicated.… Taken as a whole—the administration’s actions, its peculiar faith in Russia to do the right thing at the Security Council, and now Secretary Clinton’s statements—the administration’s Syria policy represents a total collapse of the declared U.S. position that Assad has lost legitimacy and should leave power.