Home/Daniel Larison/The U.S. Has No Good Reason to Fuel a Sectarian War in Syria

The U.S. Has No Good Reason to Fuel a Sectarian War in Syria

Bob Wright dismantles Jackson Diehl’s recent call for military intervention in Syria:

Diehl says Turkish intervention would also face problems at a finer-grained demographic level. Turkey’s “mildly Islamist Sunni government raises suspicions among Syria’s large Christian and Kurdish minorities–not to mention Assad’s Alawites.”

Wait a second. Diehl is recommending that America “support the arming of the Free Syrian Army.” The Free Syrian Army is on the other side of the conflict from most Alawites and Christians. So this sort of American involvement wouldn’t just raise suspicions among Christians and Alawites–it would confirm them!

Wright has exploded the main contradiction at the heart of the interventionist argument on Syria. Interventionists try to sell some form of military aid or military action in Syria as a humanitarian act that will prevent Syria’s collapse into sectarian warfare, but they are primarily concerned to force regime change, which will require far more sectarianism, bloodshed, regional instability, and displacement of the civilian population into neighboring countries. The goal of reducing violence in Syria and the goal of enabling the opposition to win the civil war have always been mutually exclusive, but many interventionists have wanted the public to believe that they are complementary and dependent on one another. If the interventionists had a slogan, it would have to be, “We must destroy Syria in order to save it.”

It is easy in the abstract to say that the Syrian government has been hostile to the U.S. in the past, so the U.S. should return the favor by supporting the regime’s internal enemies. As long as the problem remains abstract, one can avoid thinking about what this means for the civilians on the losing side. What U.S. intervention means in practice is that the U.S. would be facilitating the empowerment of one part of Syrian society at the expense of another, which could very well result in the forced expulsion and/or massacre of minority communities aligned with the regime. What injuries have most of the Alawites and Christians of Syria done to Americans that our government should lend support to people who may want them dead or expelled from the country? Hasn’t the U.S. already done enough by creating a refugee and IDP population of millions of Iraqis without doing the same to Syrians?

Wright faults Diehl for his incoherence, which is fair enough, but he misses that this incoherence is necessary to keep readers from running away from Diehl’s column in horror. Diehl starts with the proposition that U.S. “leadership” is indispensable, which he considers to be the same thing as saying that the U.S. must intervene in another country’s conflict. He assumes that nothing short of U.S.-backed military aid will end Syria’s conflict on his preferred terms, but every specific measure he proposes (including creating “safe zones” and arming the opposition) will simply prolong and intensify the conflict. I assume that interventionists know at some level that their preferred policies would make the conflict in Syria worse than it is, but they can’t openly acknowledge that this is the case.

One of Diehl’s other claims has already elicited gales of laughter from all corners:

Many in the Syrian opposition believe that merely the announcement of such U.S. initiatives would cause Assad’s regime to crumble from within.

Somehow I doubt that there are any Syrians who believe that at this point. Even if some in the Syrian opposition genuinely believe this, one would expect them to say this to pull the U.S. into the conflict on their side. We can understand why this is what the Syrian opposition wants (or at least what some of it wants), but at no point in Diehl’s column does he attempt to explain how any of this is in the interests of the United States. I know the hawkish talking points on this (weaken Iran, deprive Hizbullah of a patron, etc.), and they’re not very persuasive. The U.S. doesn’t have any good reason to fuel a sectarian war in Syria. If that is what being the “indispensable nation” entails, the U.S. is better off renouncing the role.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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