Our War Party has been temporarily diverted from its clamor for war on Iran by the insurrection against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Estimates of the dead since the Syrian uprising began a year ago approach 6,000. And responsibility for the carnage is being laid at the feet of the president who succeeded his dictator-father Hafez al-Assad, who ruled from 1971 until his death in 2000.
Unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who buckled, broke and departed after three weeks of protests, Bashar is not going quietly.
And, predictably, with the death toll rising, those champions of world democratic revolution — John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham — have begun beating the drums for U.S. aid to a “Free Syrian Army.”
Last week, the three senators jointly declared:
“In Libya, the threat of imminent atrocities in Benghazi mobilized the world to act. Such atrocities are now a reality in Homs and other cities all across Syria. … We must consider … providing opposition groups inside Syria, both political and military, with better means to … defend themselves, and to fight back against Assad’s forces.”
“The end of Assad’s rule would … be a moral and humanitarian victory for the Syrian people” and “a strategic defeat for the Iranian regime.”
Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, Neocon Central, is also pushing the Iranian angle.
“Syria is the soft underbelly of Iran, Tehran’s most important ally, conduit for arms and cash to terrorists. … A unique confluence of American moral purpose and America’s strategic interest argue for intervention in Syria. … It’s time to start arming the Free Syrian Army.”
What are the arguments against U.S. intervention?
First, there is no vital U.S. interest in who rules Syria. If we could live with Hafez al-Assad for decades — Bush 1 enlisted him as an ally in Desert Storm — and his son for a dozen years, what threat does Bashar’s rule pose to the United States?
Second, while McCain & Co. insist that “the bloodshed must be stopped and we should rule out no option that could help save lives,” arming the rebels would cause a geometric increase in dead and wounded.
Should America start funneling arms to the rebels, Assad will realize that, like Moammar Gadhafi, he is in a fight to the death.
In 1982, his father, to crush a rebellion centered in the city of Hama, rolled up his artillery and leveled the town, killing an estimated 20,000. This is what we are risking if we start arming the rebels.
Syria is not Libya. Assad’s arsenal of missiles, tanks, planes and guns is far superior. He has a 270,000-man army and thousands of security police.
And with a tiny Shia Alawite sect dominant in Syria, and the rebellion rooted in a Sunni Muslim majority, Assad and his loyalists know that if they go down, they go to the wall.
“Christians to Beirut and Alawites to the wall,” was an early slogan of the resistance.
And after seeing the atrocities visited upon the Christians in Iraq when Saddam went down, and on Copts when Mubarak went down, do we want to depose another secular dictator — only to empower another regime of Islamic fundamentalists?
In Libya, the British and French led us in. Those NATO allies want no part of a Syrian civil war.
In Libya, a third of the country was rebel-held territory. With a single coastal road leading from Gadhafi’s command post in Tripoli to Benghazi, NATO planes could easily interdict convoys trying to reach the rebel base.
In Syria, the rebels have no “liberated” territory.
The U.N. Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya. But Russia, burned by what NATO did in Libya, stands ready to veto a no-fly zone over Syria. U.S. military aid to the rebels could bring Russian military aid to its client regime in Damascus.
U.S. intervention could also trigger a proxy war and a regional war. Assad’s ally, Hezbollah, is already battling Syrian rebels in Lebanon. Sunnis in Iraq’s Anbar province are shipping guns to their fellow Sunnis in Syria.
And if Assad falls, who rises?
Would a triumphant Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus keep the peace on the Golan Heights, as the Assads did for 40 years?
According to U.S. sources, al-Qaida was behind the four suicide bombings that killed scores of Syrian soldiers and officials in Damascus and Aleppo. Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has called on Sunnis from all neighboring countries to join the war against Assad’s “pernicious, cancerous regime.”
If the ouster of Assad is good for al-Qaida, can it also be good for America?
As for the Free Syrian Army to whom U.S. military aid would go, it is divided with itself, and one ranking colonel has described the Syrian National Council, with whom we have been working, as “traitors.”
Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya — none has turned out as was predicted when we plunged in. And other than neoconservative ideology, what makes us think intervening in Syria will?
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”
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