(Editor’s Note: The last three paragraphs of this editorial were inadvertently omitted in the May 10 print edition. The full text follows.)
Popular political commentator and comedian Jon Stewart turned to the issue of Syria on The Daily Show last week. Specifically, he took aim at some Republican senators who are urging the United States to provide more support for the rebels fighting the regime of dictator Bashar Assad.
“We begin tonight’s comedy program in the Middle East,” said Stewart, introducing the segment with a map of the region projected behind him.
Stewart played clips of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., scoring the Obama administration’s lack of action, in the face of 70,000 Syrian civilians killed by the Assad regime over the past two years. In another video clip, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., declares, “We have never let something like that happen before.”
“Thank you,” Stewart says sarcastically, regarding the remarks by the gentleman from Georgia. “Well, obviously except for, you know, Rwanda, and Darfur, and Bosnia, and Cambodia — point taken. We as America have never let something like that happen before — in Syria, with this particular Assad.”
As for Graham’s suggestion that the U.S. should arm the “right” rebels and not Islamist extremists trying to bring down the Assad government, Stewart gets in a dig at one of the NRA’s favorites in Congress: “Maybe we can do background checks.”
The Obama administration has resisted calls to get militarily involved in the Syrian civil war. However, the president recently set a standard for U.S. intervention when he said, “We start seeing a bunch of chemical weapons moving around, that’s a red line for us … there would be enormous consequences.”
(Perhaps Obama’s talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over recent years have led to the term “red line” lodging in his rhetoric.)
The issue of U.S. involvement in Syria was highlighted this past weekend, when Israel reportedly launched two missile attacks near Damascus to interdict the transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon. (Israel also struck Syria on Jan. 31.)
Larry Derfner, a former Jerusalem Post columnist who now writes on the left-wing +972 Web site, notes this week that Israelis “have been worried that the fighting in Syria is going to ‘spill over the border,’ and now Israel, unprovoked, unattacked, has gone and bombed Syria twice in the last 72 hours. Is anyone in this vibrant democracy protesting? I haven’t heard it.”
Derfner goes on to speculate that Israel might be “trying to draw Iran into the fray and give it an excuse to hit Tehran… One thing is sure — Israel is provoking a war.”
However, Noam Sheizaf, another +972 contributor, gainsays Derfner’s views, and suggests that the international community get behind a “humanitarian intervention,” perhaps along the lines of the effort that toppled Gaddafi in Libya.
“The real question is whether the international community should move from a containment effort — i.e. ensuring that the war doesn’t spill into other countries or that WMDs and other advanced weapons systems are not moved — to offensive action against the regime,” Sheizaf writes. “I think the answer is unclear, but recently I’ve been leaning towards ‘yes.’”
Sheizaf doesn’t suggest that Israel take a leading role in confronting the Syrian regime — apart from the missile attacks ostensibly designed to thwart Hezbollah getting its hands on long-range, accurate missiles. But he points out that both Lebanon and Jordan are trying to cope with the influx of thousands of refugees from the fighting in Syria, and suggests that Israel “start acting like a Middle Eastern country and share the burden in times of suffering…. It’s way more important than sending aid delegations to Haiti.”
In this country, again, some Republicans are beating the war drums over Syria. But other voices, including scholars familiar with the ethnic composition of Syria, are urging restraint.
“Syria is like Iraq,” writes Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “It presents a potential quagmire for the U.S. should Washington intervene under the assumption that the killing will stop once the Assad regime is destroyed. A humanitarian intervention will become a nation-building project, as was the case in Iraq.”
Writing on his blog titled Syria Comment, Landis explains, “Syria is much like Iraq in that minorities (20 percent) have for 40 years held their foot on the neck of the majority, which is now fighting a war to take control of the country. In both countries, the political struggle falls largely along religious and ethnic lines, although both class and regional differences are also important.”
Landis adds that the popular Syrian revolt “started as a peaceful struggle, but took on a sectarian character as the government used violence. Sectarianism has long been a seminal part of politics in Syria. The regime has protected itself by using sectarian strategies and has mobilized and exploited historic Alawite fear of Sunni discrimination and mistreatment.”
Landis counsels that the U.S. “should not lead the way in Syria. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a much greater stake in Syria and should lead the way. Their interest will be sustained. They have the money, advanced weapons, and strong religious motivation to help the rebels and defeat Iranian and Shiite influence in Syria. The U.S. should not be taking sides in the larger regional contest pitting Shiites against Sunnis.”
The common wisdom seems to be that there are no good options for resolving the catastrophe in Syria. Assad, a war criminal, should be captured and shown to a cell at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. But who is going to do that?
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 5.10.13)