Secretary of State John Kerry has long urged increased US support for Syria’s Islamist rebels, and now he has his wish: shortly after being confirmed, he announced the US would now directly aid rebel groups, rather than "indirectly," as we’ve supposedly been doing. Not only that, but the definition of "non-lethal" aid is being stretched to include armored vehicles and body armor: in addition, US "advisors" will be sent to the region – an ominous development that historians of the Vietnam war will observe with a high degree of skepticism. That’s another war that started with sending American "advisors," you’ll recall.
The war propaganda we’ve heard on this subject is all about "the children," the alleged atrocities committed by the Syrian government – "Assad is killing his own people!" (where have we heard that one before? – and how it’s our "humanitarian" duty to help the bloodthirsty jihadists fighting to overthrow the regime. Although no one doubts the brutality of the Ba’athists, a lot of this is utter hogwash: the Syrian opposition has been launching one hoax after another to shame the West into intervening more directly, but their clumsiness in arranging a verifiable incident hasn’t helped their cause.
Up until this point, President Barack Obama has resisted calls by many on the "progressive" left, as well as the usual suspects on the neocon right, to plunge head first into the Syrian maelstrom. Kerry’s announcement may augur the beginning of a new phase of US involvement in this dirty war – and that’s bad news for America.
It’s worse news for the Syrians, who have seen their society destroyed by fanatics in league with al Qaeda – the real fighting forces who dominate the rebel "army." Initially domiciled in Turkey, and having taken over a good part of the country, seasoned jihadists from all over the Middle East and points beyond are imposing sharia law wherever they gain a foothold, destroying centuries-old churches and slaughtering any "infidels" unlucky enough to be in their path. These are the West’s vaunted "allies" in this latest "humanitarian" war – the very same people who brought down the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon on 9/11.
So why in the name of all that’s holy are we allying with and arming these monsters?
In a word: Iran. The Western alliance with the Syrian sons of Osama bin Laden is a cold geopolitical calculation. We’re out to show the mullahs of Tehran that we mean business. Syria could wind up opening an oh-so-convenient back door to war with Iran.
If a Western attack on Iran – the top item on the War Party’s agenda – will mean World War III in the Middle East, then the Syrian conflict is the War Party’s Spain, the prelude to a wider slaughter. In this reenactment of World War II, Assad is playing the role of Franco, while the rebels take the part of the "Loyalists." As for Hitler – he lives in Tehran, or so the Israelis and their American amen corner would have us believe. And while historical analogies are never models of precision, we can take this one further by noting that, like the Spanish Loyalists, the Syrian rebels, too, have their Western "progressive" sympathizers and fellow-travelers, including the American Secretary of State.
With (mostly sketchy) reports of Iranian Revolutionary Guards already in Syria aiding government forces, the West (and its Sunni allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) is putting their own proxy army in the field. But that army consists primarily of two Salafist groups, al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, the former linked to al Qaeda and the latter to rich sheikhs in Kuwait. These groups are carrying out car-bombings against civilian targets, murdering Christians and Alawites, and waging a ruthless terrorist campaign that has wreaked havoc in all major cities and killed many. The irony is that the West is now pointing to the success of these groups as a reason to intervene: we cannot permit them to gain a foothold in "post-Assad Syria."
That’s a classic example of creating a problem and then solving it with more of the same misguided policies: aid has been flowing to these Islamist groups via our Sunni allies for over a year. Yet now we claim we must intervene more directly in order to ensure that the consequences of our past policies don’t ensure a victory for "extremists."
The problem with that is there are no "moderates" with any significant military or political clout in Syria: the jihadists are in near total control of the military component of the rebel groups. Politically the supposedly "secular" moderates are nearly invisible, with more support in the capitals of the West than inside the country itself. The overriding fact of the matter is that the fighting forces of the rebel army are solidly Salafist-"extremist."
Interventionists argue we should have listened to John McCain and Lindsey Graham (and Anne-Marie Slaughter), and armed the rebels much earlier, but this fails to take into account the fact that war requires the sort of fanaticism embodied by al-Nusra and its Islamist allies in the Syrian rebel army. The "moderates" never were all that numerous or effective: they never are in any conflict, and especially not in a civil war with heavily religious-sectarian overtones.
In seeking the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist dictatorship in Iraq, the US and its allies played the Shi’ite card, enlisting –with various degrees of success – the various Shi’ite opposition groups, such as the Da’wa Party of Nouri al-Maliki (now Prime Minister of "liberated" Iraq), while other groups (such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) stayed close to Tehran. Together with the CIA-created "Iraqi National Congress" of Ahmed "Hero in Error" Chalabi, these groups united in common cause against Saddam. It was, however, a short-lived Popular Front.
In Iraq, the alleged "democrats" – held up by Bush administration as the vanguard of their so-called Global Democratic Revolution – evaporated right after the "liberation." Chalabi, for his part, joined up with the militantly anti-American Sadrists. Baghdad and Tehran grew closer, forging economic and ideological links. It was time for a new turn by our brilliant policymakers, who were playing it by ear all along: in short, it was time for the Sunni turn.
The great irony of our global "war on terrorism," launched in response to attacks on the United States by fanatic Sunni fundamentalists, is that we have wound up on the same side as bin Laden’s heirs and legatees. The essence of US policy in the Middle East today is ginning up a religious war between the two main branches of Islam, represented in the world of nation-states on the one hand by Iran – the only country where political Shia-ism holds state power – and Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf emirates) on the other, the epicenter of the strict Wahabist version of Islam and the site of Mecca and Medina. Having played the Shi’ite card in Iraq, we are now playing the Sunni card in Syria (and in Libya), even to the extent of supporting the Jundullah Sunni terrorist group in Iranian Baluchistan.
We have been here before. Syria isn’t the first place we backed a Sunni fundamantalist rebellion against a secular socialist regime: back in the days of the now-forgotten cold war, American arms and aid went to the Afghan mujahideen, hailed by President Ronald Reagan as "freedom fighters." We are making the same mistake again – but, then again, does anybody in Washington know history, let alone have the smarts to heed its lessons?
Today’s grand strategists think they’re being oh-so-smart by claiming they’ll avoid that kind of "blowback" by making sure the Good Guys are getting the aid, not the Bad Guys who mean us harm. In the real world, however – as opposed to the alternate universe inhabited by Washington’s policymakers and cloistered theoreticians – the difference is most often impossible to discern. Today’s Good Guys have a very bad habit of becoming tomorrow’s Bad Guys. I seem to recall Chairman Mao used to be an "agrarian reformer," and we used to call Stalin "Uncle Joe." Closer to our own time, those Afghan "freedom fighters" didn’t take that long to morph into the villains of the century.
Such dramatic transformations tend to take place with alarming speed these days. Who would be surprised if Syria’s Islamist George Washington ,whoever he may turn out to be, becomes the latest in a series of anti-American demons unleashed by our own too-clever-by-half machinations?
The same hubris that lured us into Iraq is now summoning us for a replay in Syria. The interventionist impulse is energized by the conceit that we can really pull off a feat of social engineering in Syria, a complex collection of religious and ethnic subcultures with ancient roots whose nature we can only observe from a certain cultural distance – no matter how many "boots on the ground" we have in country. It is the same conceit that allows us to believe we can centrally plan the American economy, or even the world economy, and effectively run the lives of people of whom we know – and can know – really nothing.
It is the hubris of political elites everywhere that is the cause of all the troubles in this world, the worst of these being war. Let us hope the gods punish them for their arrogance sooner, rather than later: in any case, we are all likely to be punished for their sins, of that there can be no doubt.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I will be the keynote speaker at the Republican Liberty Caucus of California convention, this coming Saturday, March 2, in Sacramento. The event will take place at the Sacramento Convention Center, Room 204, (address:1400 J Street: the convention center is adjacent to the Hyatt Regency). I am scheduled to be introduced at 2:10, to speak from 2:15 to 2:45, and to take questions from 2:45 to 3:00.
I’m on Twitter quite a bit these days, and having a lot of fun: indeed, I just passed 3,000 "followers"! Help me cross the 4000 mark by following me here.
I’ve also written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).