There are a lot of short memories in Washington. The Iraqi National Council, headed by Ahmed Chalabi, was founded to bring about regime change in Iraq. From the start it became a neocon favorite and had instant access to the levers of power in the federal government. It also began stovepiping made-to-order intelligence into the system to make the preposterous claim that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States. The information was used, successfully, to make the case for war. Chalabi, it turns out, was also providing intelligence on his US benefactors to the Iranians.
Now we have the Syrian American Council, located on F Street in Washington with a website. It is circulating a letter on Capitol Hill to each congressman blaming all the violence in Syria on Assad, calling for the creation of “safe zones,” and advocating doing whatever is needed to bring about regime change. Like the INC’s questionable propaganda, it is representing the conflict in Manichean terms intended to shape the US public perception so as to see Assad as a threat. It is claiming that Assad is supporting international terrorism, is an ally of America’s enemy Iran, and is in danger of undermining the “pluralistic and democratic elements of the revolution” if the fighting is prolonged, opening the door to “extremists.” On its website SAC supports military intervention in Syria with or without a UN resolution.
As it seems that the extremists are in fact already on the side of the so-called revolution, one might well ask who is funding the SAC, where does its leadership come from, and what can it actually deliver on? Or are we seeing Chalabi revisited? There is a real danger that the United States, in the name of humanitarian intervention, is again stepping into a situation that is poorly understood and which will lead to chaos. A break-up of Syria into constituent ethnic and religious parts would weaken the country and might please regional hegemon Israel in the short term, but it would not benefit anyone in the long term and would create yet another unsustainable power vacuum.
Today, Hillary Clinton again called on Assad to go, saying “We can’t break with the Syrian people, who want real change.” Well, that all depends on whom one talks to. The regime appears to retain considerable support, particularly among minority religious communities like the Alawites and Christians. It is secular for all its faults and would likely be replaced by something with less authority and a much stronger religious identification as has occurred in Iraq (and also Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia).
One can challenge the moral authority of Hillary Clinton and the administration that she represents to make demands on any other country under any circumstances, but a more fundamental question is, “Where is the American interest in this?” As far as I can tell the only real interest would be to hold Syria together as a unified state rather than allow it to slip into civil war, but Clinton’s frequent exhortations for Assad to go will quite likely encourage the centrifugal forces that will tear the country apart. One only has to look at the example of Libya, where reports that Gaddafi was murdering his own people proved to be unfounded but were nevertheless used as a pretext for military intervention. Today, Libya is riven by political and tribal divisions but the White House considers the result something to be proud of. Libya demonstrates that one does not have to go back to the example of Iraq to understand that meddling overseas is a fool’s game.