The United States must immediately end all—and I mean all—support for the Syrian rebels. It should abandon them to their fate, whatever that might be. It should avoid getting involved, just as it abandoned Eastern European anti-Soviet rebellions in 1956 and 1968, just as it cut off Kurdish anti-Saddam separatists in the early 1970s and Shiite anti-Saddam rebels in 1991. And just as it didn’t intervene, thank goodness, in the 2009 Green Movement uprising in Iran.
What’s happening in Syria has transformed, inch by inch, from an Arab Spring–type rebellion against an autocrat, à la Tunisia and Egypt, into a full-fledged civil war. In that war, one side is amply backed by Iran, Russia and, it now appears, Iraq. And the other side is supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Arab Persian Gulf kleptocracies.
Note any pattern? Yes, Sunni vs. Shiite. The United States is now engaged nearly completely in a sectarian, region-wide conflict pitting anti-American, Shiite powers and their allies against a Sunni bloc, including the Muslim Brotherhood. In Syria, the opposition is heavily influenced by, if not dominated by, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni militants, including a smattering of Al Qaeda types. And it’s now getting the full-throated support of the Egyptian president, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, too.
As David Ignatius points out, the war in Syria is nearly identical to the 1980s US-backed jihad against the Soviet-backed government, and we know how that turned out: a thirty-years’ war, 1 million dead and a shattered nation that won’t recover for a generation or two. Among the points that Ignatius makes, correctly, in “Syria’s eerie parallel to 1980s Afghanistan” are: that CIA stations outside the country are funneling aid to rebels, that Saudi Arabia and its intelligence service are orchestrating and funding the revolt, and more:
The parallels are spooky. In Syria, as in Afghanistan, CIA officers are operating at the borders (in this case, mostly in Jordan and Turkey), helping Sunni insurgents improve their command and control and engaging in other activities. Weapons are coming from third parties (in Afghanistan, they came mostly from China and Egypt; in Syria, they’re mainly bought on the black market). And finally, a major financier for both insurgencies has been Saudi Arabia.
There’s even a colorful figure who links the two campaigns: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who as Saudi ambassador to Washington in the 1980s worked to finance and support the CIA in Afghanistan and who now, as chief of Saudi intelligence, is encouraging operations in Syria.
And, Ignatius warns: “The United States should be cautious about embracing the Sunni-vs.-Shiite dynamic of the Syrian war.”