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There Is Obviously No Case for Supporting Assad

Daniel Pipes tries to make the case [1] for U.S. support in the Syrian conflict on the side of Assad and his regime:

Here is my logic for this reluctant suggestion: Evil forces pose less danger to us when they make war on each other. This (1) keeps them focused locally and (2) prevents either one from emerging victorious (and thereby posing a yet-greater danger). Western powers should guide enemies to stalemate by helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong the conflict.

This is a horrible, insane idea, but it is one that will eventually occur to some people when it is taken for granted that the U.S. has something at stake in a foreign civil war. If the U.S. must not remain on the “sidelines,” there are bound to be some people who prefer that the U.S. take the regime’s side in the conflict. These people will use the same misguided argument that by doing so the U.S. will harm the patrons of the other side, as if this made intervention in the conflict justifiable or desirable. The usual problem in debates over how to respond to foreign civil wars is that interventionists are too optimistic and enthusiastic about the side they want the U.S. to aid. There is a tendency to exaggerate the “pro-Western” and liberal nature of the forces that they want to support. That isn’t the problem here. In Pipes’ case, he seems to think that he is making the case for intervention more compelling by emphasizing the worst qualities of both sides, which takes an already bad argument for intervention in Syria and makes it worse.

Pipes doesn’t claim that the regime deserves U.S. support, and he doesn’t think that it does, but instead says that encouraging greater slaughter will keep the warring parties occupied. There are many reasons why this is wrong, but one of the more important ones is that victory by either side poses no real threat to the U.S. The truth is that neither side in Syria represents much of a danger to the U.S. America gains nothing and takes unacceptable risks by providing support to either side. The U.S. is best served by steering clear of the conflict all together. We shouldn’t desire a prolongation of the conflict, which is why the repeated calls to support the opposition have been wrong from the start, but we also certainly have no business propping up an abusive regime.

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23 Comments To "There Is Obviously No Case for Supporting Assad"

#1 Comment By Thymoleontas On April 12, 2013 @ 11:45 am

In the case of Assad and the Syrian Ba’ath Party, they ARE the more liberal of the two sides, if one considers secularist nationalism to be a relative measure of liberalism.

Also, greatest reason why Pipes’ suggestion is wrong is because it is *immoral and unprincipled*, especially given the fact that we have to direct strategic interest there, as you have been arguing all along, Daniel.

#2 Comment By Thymoleontas On April 12, 2013 @ 11:46 am

…especially given the fact that we have NO direct strategic interest there, as you have been arguing all along, Daniel.

#3 Comment By Essayist-Lawyer On April 12, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

Let’s not forget that neoconservatism began with Jeanne Kirkpatrick arguing that we should go all-out in propping up friendly dictators and not be all weak-kneed like we were in Vietnam and limit ourselves to sending in a mere 500,000 troops. She said (correctly) that building democracy is hard, but seemed to assume that the Soviets could create revolutions at will and that we could stop them at will.

That’s what it really boils down to — the assumption that doing something is always better than doing nothing, and that the only limit on our power is our lack of resolve.

#4 Comment By Henri James On April 12, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

That is the most monstrous thing I’ve read today.

#5 Comment By HyperIon On April 12, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

DL wrote: …encouraging greater slaughter…

Pipes (like Ralph Peters, Max Boot, Liz Cheney, and several of the “bad” Kagans”) regularly comes up with “solutions” based on “encouraging greater slaughter”.

It’s quite astonishing.

#6 Comment By CaseyL On April 12, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

IIRC, isn’t this exactly what the Reagan Admin did during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s – arm both sides?

That worked out really well, didn’t it?

#7 Comment By Gordon Hanson On April 12, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

That is a “horrible, insane idea.” The writings of Daniel Pipes are as worthless as those of Victor Davis Hanson. And there was an equally horrible comment in support of the Assad regime beneath your post on McCain on Syria yesterday. I would imagine that commenter x, if he lived under an Assad-like regime and was a persecuted minority under such a regime, would not be amused by foreigners who supported the tyrant persecuting him.

#8 Comment By cfountain72 On April 12, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

Another neocon justifying more collateral damage…what else is new.

In all seriousness, Pipes really seems like he views the world through a comic book prism: the good guys are over here and the bad guys are over there. Justice League: here. Legion of Doom: there. I guess seeing the world in that kind of 2nd grade level context makes the concerns about those poor innocents who get in the crossfire irrelevant; in his world, there can be no ambiguous folks who are ‘just trying to get by’. He seems to console himself by believing that if you live in an evil country, you are, by definition, evil. As such, your death (or life) is of no great import.

Peace be with you.

#9 Comment By LaurelhurstLiberal On April 12, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

Encouraging Arabs to kill each other off like beetles in a jar? What could go wrong?

God help us, we seem to have outsourced our foreign policy debate to the Joker.

#10 Comment By Gordon Hanson On April 12, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

Jeane (one “n”) Duane Jordan Kirkpatrick is the correct rendition of the name of the former US ambassador to the United Nations.

#11 Comment By Rojo On April 12, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

Remember when Bush appointed this guy to the US Institute of Peace? That would be like giving Obama a Nobel Peace Prize.

#12 Comment By cka2nd On April 12, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

How about this crazy idea? American citizens should be able to support whichever side in a war they want, and the federal government stays out of it unless it determines that one or another side is better for American interests. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that this would be easy to do, but we do have historical precedent on our side.

In the last century, Sun Yat-sen barnstormed U.S. Chinatowns for money to overthrow the Ching dynasty, Irish-Americans sent funds and arms to the IRA, the Communist Party organized the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and Citizens for America raised private bucks to support the Contras in Nicaragua, the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, UNITA in Angola and anti-communist rebels in Laos. And let’s not even talk about private American foreign adventures in the 19th Century against Mexico and Hawaii.

The trick would be to force a very narrow definition of “interests” on our government, which of course may be impossible, as demonstrated by the late, great USMC Major General Smedly Butler in an article he wrote in 1935:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

#13 Comment By Ken Hoop On April 12, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

Gordon Hanson says

“there was an equally horrible comment in support of the Assad regime beneath your post on McCain on Syria yesterday. I would imagine that commenter x, if he lived under an Assad-like regime and was a persecuted minority under such a regime, would not be amused by foreigners who supported the tyrant persecuting him.”

I agree that the US should remain neutrality (actually just clear out of the Middle East) but I would not go so far as to assert that Russia is maintainting a “horrible” policy in supporting the regime most protective of Orthodox Christians. (Nor am I sure who is a persecuted minority in Syria ,but that’s another matter.)

#14 Comment By James Canning On April 12, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

Daniel Pipes is pleased to see a vicious civil war underway in Syria. Pathetic.

#15 Comment By a spencer On April 12, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

“This is a horrible, insane idea, but it is one that will eventually occur to some people when…”

This could be a game!

I thought you might finish with “all of their other horrible, insane ideas fail to gain traction while they’re waiting around for something to happen”.

#16 Comment By Paul On April 12, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

Granted that the U.S. has no important national interest at stake that should lead us to intervene…. Granted that the Assad family dictatorship has been bad for Syria, arguably bad for the region and of course has killed many innocent people, both over the decades and in this civil war…. Granted that if the Syrian government restores order, Assad will persecute and kill many non-combatants…. Granted that doing anything purposefully to prolong a civil war is downright *evil* and Daniel Pipes should be ashamed….

Isn’t there still a case, from a realpolitik point of view, that backing Assad is the least bad plausible scenario? The Syrian rebels don’t seem capable of winning the civil war any time soon, or taking the major cities. Presumably, if we supported Assad, the government could quickly defeat the rebels. The U.S. would then have an unlikely ally, upon whom we could prevail to cut ties with Hezbollah, further isolate Iran and support our policies in Israel / Palestine.

On the other hand, if Assad is eventually deposed, Syria might descend to Iraq-like chaos. The Christian and Alawite minorities would be driven out (many of them killed by their neighbors), and Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Iran would have incentive to agitate for an independent Kurdistan. Or Assad would loose national power but remain fighting at the head of a well-armed Alawite army, and Syria might become a collection of warring fiefdoms.

This past summer I spoke with a Palestinian living in Istanbul, who grew up in Damascus. Despite being quite leftwing, he thought about 70% of Syrians were pro-government, an estimate similar to what a Syrian Christian friend told me. Of course these were just two people (not even living in Syria), and maybe polling shows government support is lower. The point is that it’s possible for people of good will, who have no love for the Assad family, to look at the situation in Syria and conclude the pre-war status quo is the lesser evil.

Again, I don’t think we should support Assad for moral reasons, and because the last thing America needs right now is yet another war. But we wouldn’t be crazy if we did.

#17 Comment By Alex Ignatiev On April 12, 2013 @ 11:12 pm

The only legitimate interests that America has in that conflict is trying to ensure that the international laws of war are being followed by the belligerents. That’s required of all Geneva convention signatories, IIRC.

#18 Comment By a spencer On April 13, 2013 @ 1:21 am

Let’s remember we’re talking about a displaced ophthalmologist who may have led a presumably uneventful life in London had his older brother not been killed.

Even before all of this Syria was a diverse country, including every manner of Arab, wise and humorous Christians, dedicated artists, eastern survivors continuing their unique liturgy. Boutique hotels converted from 16th Century royal enclaves costing less than what you’d pay at an AmericInn, for instance.

Not to pick on AmericInn.

Women covered head-to-toe in black without threat of jurisprudence and wholly lacking in criminal conscience, proudly holding hands with their husbands and children on their way to the park.

Women wearing what they wanted and holding hands with their Christian and/or Muslim counterparts, covered or not. Here’s the thing: Syrian women, unlike say Iranian women, were under no obligation to cover and yet some covered to a greater degree than Iranians while at the same time – anecdotal evidence on my part – a significant number of Syrian Muslim women, based on demographic probabilities, did not cover.

Telling, how little reporting there is about the million-plus Iraqis who took refuge in Syria during the Neo-Cons’ War, while the US struggled to accommodate a few thousand during the same time period.

#19 Comment By Don Quijote On April 13, 2013 @ 9:41 am

How about this crazy idea? American citizens should be able to support whichever side in a war they want, and the federal government stays out of it unless it determines that one or another side is better for American interests.

And what happens when these Americans end up being slaughtered by the hundreds? Do we then get sucked into a war in which we as a nation have no real strategic interest?

Or what happens when Government Y gets tired of a handful of Americans raising funds for group X and decides that the simplest solution to the problem is few grams of lead to the back of the head of the fund raisers? Even if those fund raisers are located in the US?

#20 Comment By Mightypeon On April 13, 2013 @ 11:08 am

Frankly, what happens right now in Syria is to an extent what could have happened in West Germany if the East Germany Stasi would have shot policemen in the 1968 demonstrations (The Lebanese Salafist interventionist actually went beyond that).
As even opposition members admit, the opposition was never “peacefull”, their claim to have been “peacefull” while Alawite families were burying dead policemen was, as far as the internal situation goes, a major reason why many liberal leaning Christians, Shiites or Alawites rebounded and grudginly supported Assad.
Assad actually tried to reach some kind of accomodation for a fairly long time (including material compensations to the families of police violence victims), this may have been a mistake because certain highly conservative Sunni circles saw this as weakness. Of course, Assad could forbid shooting at demonstrators as much as he wanted, if policemen on the ground felt suitably threatened they would shoot anyway (and Assad would appear as a lier to the domestic opposition, so the opposition got more radicalised).
Syria is a cautionary tale of how easy it is to start a civil war.

#21 Comment By MikeSchilling On April 13, 2013 @ 11:06 pm

Pipes is no doubt embarrassed by the current apologia for the Iraq debacle, that it made the Iraqi people better off, and eager to assert his neocon credentials as a man who’s happy to make his enemies (non-white, non-Christian, non-Americans) worse off.

#22 Comment By Anderson On April 15, 2013 @ 11:27 am

Wow. That Pipes quotation made me double-check my bookshelves to make sure there’s nothing by Pipes on them. Happily, no.

#23 Comment By Tel On April 17, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

The thing that bothers me most about the Pipes piece is that he argues quite explicitly that it would be a good way to thwart Turkey’s ambitions. Turkey, who – in case he’s forgotten it – is actually in a formal alliance with the United States. We’ve agreed that any attack on Turkey is an attack on us, and vice versa. Unless he’s suggesting we withdraw from NATO, we’re required (legally and morally) to support our ally, not encourage attacks on its border provinces.