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Opinion

Opinion

Support for Syrian rebels can’t wait

September 23, 2012

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The talk in Washington is that last week’s Mideast violence will cement President Obama’s reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria.

After all, the demonstrations in Libya and Egypt, etc., were orchestrated by radical Islamists — empowered by the fall of dictators and the emergence of Arab democracies. So why should Obama help Syrian rebels oust dictator Bashar al-Assad if his fall may produce a similar result?

The answer: If Obama doesn’t help Syrian rebels now, the outcome will be far worse for America, and the entire region. Indeed, Libya should make U.S. help for Syrian rebels more urgent, not less.

This argument is made compellingly by a courageous Syrian writer, Samar Yazbek, who visited Philadelphia this week to discuss her newly published memoir, “A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution.”

Yazbek risked her life to document how peaceful protests turned into armed rebellion. An educated, secular woman, with flowing blond hair, she traveled in disguise to watch as unarmed demonstrators were attacked by regime snipers and militias, and whole towns were punished by artillery bombardments.

Yazbek belongs to Syria’s minority Alawite (Shiite) sect, the religion of the ruling Assad clan along with most of the military and security elite. She is considered a traitor for her activism, and was repeatedly hauled in for interrogation. She was made to view the bloodied bodies of young prisoners mutilated by horrifying torture. She agonized constantly that the regime might harm her teenage daughter.

Her life was probably saved by the fact that the murder of a well-known Alawite writer would have undercut the false regime narrative that the rebels were all Sunni religious fundamentalists. As Yazbek’s book shows, that isn’t true.

Early in the revolt, many ordinary Syrians were inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to protest against the Assad regime’s repression and corruption. The regime’s violent response led groups of defecting soldiers and ordinary citizens to form militias to protect their towns.

The rise of more radical fighting groups was “a reaction to the regime’s violence,” says Yazbek. “They aren’t representative of (all) these militias, but if the regime continues, this will lead to more religious radicalism from the people.”

Yazbek describes how Assad is deliberately provoking sectarianism and religious radicalism: He seeks to frighten minorities and moderate Sunnis into believing they must support him. Regime thugs, known as shabiha, move around the country spreading rumors amongst Alawites that Sunnis are coming to rape and kill them — and vice versa. Their aim is to goad one sect to fight the other, in a sectarian war that will spread across Syria’s borders.

Yazbek was told by an Alawite member of the security services that “Assad won’t leave power before Syria is destroyed.”

This brings us to the issue of Obama’s policy toward Syria. The administration has called for Assad to leave power but has done little to expedite his departure. Understandably, the White House doesn’t want to get involved in another Mideast war.

However, the longer the Syrian fighting goes on, the worse the likely outcome. For months, the White House clung to the unfounded hope that Moscow would abandon its support for its last Mideast ally. It also tried fruitlessly to get exiled Syrian activists to agree on a leadership that the West could recognize.

Yet the future Syrian leaders who matter are those leading the militias that are fighting on the ground.

When it comes to helping Syrian fighters with weapons, the administration has outsourced that task to Gulf countries. The result: Gulf money and arms are flowing to Islamist groups and hard-line Salafis, while non-Islamist militias go begging for weapons and communications equipment. This makes more likely the result that everyone fears.

What to do? Tabler says the administration should be making a massive effort to “directly track and engage with Syrian armed groups and see whom we could work with.” If we can identify such groups, he believes we should supply them with “what they need.”

That might be ground-to-air weapons that could shoot down the planes that are bombing civilians in Syrian cities. This wouldn’t end the conflict but might turn the corner and convince some key Assad supporters that he can’t last.

Yes, there are risks involved, and some weapons could get into the wrong hands. Yes, Assad’s fall would probably mean some Islamists will play a key role in a successor democracy. But if we stay aloof, and outsource Syria policy, radical Salafis will gain strength along with an influx of Arab jihadis. And U.S. influence in post-Assad Damascus will be nil.

As for a possible diplomatic solution, only if Moscow perceives Obama to be serious might it join in a regional formula to stabilize a post-Assad Syria (leaving Iran, Assad’s stro”ngest ally, isolated).

Samar Yazbek knows she could face difficulties as a secular woman under a post-Assad government. She is still adamant that Washington should help the non-Islamist militias with weapons. “What happened in Libya must force the West to help Syria so that religious radicalism won’t spread,” Yazbek says. I agree.

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Comments

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

Anyone that bothered to read the link that I supplied yesterday on Charles Krauthammer's column and also knows any US history from the 1960s and 1970s should become extremely alarmed at reading the above article.

This is the link I supplied yesterday: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/topic/vladimir-putin/

That link is all about how Israel is now suddenly becoming the new Saudi Arabia for both natural gas and crude oil, exactly who is supporting Israel, and exactly who is supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and exactly who is supporting the rebels in Syria.

Russia is getting to be very friendly with Israel these days, in fact Vladimir Putin has visited Israel twice in the last month, and President Obama has traveled all over the Middle East, and has yet to visit Israel. Not only that, but President Obama refused to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu at all while he was in Washington last week.

In light of the above, I would recommend psychiatric services for our president, and some serious study of the U.S.'s involvement in the war in Vietnam. Or maybe for some of his advisers who are not keeping up with the fast changing nature of world politics. I can't say just study the American involvement in Vietnam, because the war had been going on for about 100 years when the USA took over after the French gave up on their colonial ambitions on the territory of Vietnam.

What is happening is that Russia is supplying advanced weapons to Bashar al-Assad, and signing contracts for Gazprom (The Russian Oil Company) to develop Israel's newly discovered natural gas and oil reserves.

I could clip out a large number of excerpts from that link, but that would lead to a voluminously long posting. If anyone is interested in World War III, they can read it in its entirety themselves.

The gist of it is this: Instead of supporting south Vietnam, we'll support the Syrian rebels. Instead of China, it will be Russia supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, in place of supporting North Vietnam.

And of course, the loser will be the USA, fumbling along from one foreign policy disaster to the next.

I'll clip in a few bits from that link.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

At today’s meeting in Mexico between President Obama and his Russian counterpart, the U.S. leader sought to persuade Vladimir Putin that America had no desire to come between Moscow and its loyal client state Syria. Counting on his personal charm and instinctive belief that a demonstration of his good will toward those who are hostile to the United States will solve most problems, Obama thought he could convince Putin to back off on his support for the murderous Assad regime and join the West in pushing for an end to the slaughter in Syria. But the grim look on the faces of both Obama and Putin after they endured two hours of each other’s company indicates just how badly the American failed.


But three months later, with Russia sending missile defense systems to Syria, it would appear that Romney’s evaluation was right on target.

The announcement on Friday that Russia would be sending advanced missiles to the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad was a body blow to those who have been trying to convince the world that Putin was prepared to play ball with the West. The missiles are intended to help Assad fend off any Western intervention in Syria as the dictator continues to repress dissent and slaughter his people. The move is troubling in of itself as it will embolden Assad to stand his ground against international pressure and make any intervention to stop the humanitarian crisis there much more difficult. But it also reveals what has long been obvious to anyone paying attention to Moscow’s foreign policy ambitions in the last decade. Putin’s goal is to reconstitute as far as possible the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East. As far as he is concerned, the discussion about human rights in Syria is irrelevant. Syria is his client state, and like his Soviet predecessors, he is determined to preserve it at any cost, something that will also have serious implications for the West’s attempt to stop Iran’s nuclear program. If that isn’t a geopolitical foe for the United States, then what exactly would one look like?

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

Earlier this week, I noted the fact that while President Obama has chosen not to visit Israel since taking office even when visiting the Middle East, Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be making his second trip to the Jewish state this month. The fact that Obama is still so resentful of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he couldn’t bring himself to go to Jerusalem even when it would clearly be in his political interests to do so, while Putin thinks it is good politics to go there, struck me as interesting. But our friends at the Forward have a very different take on the story. In an editorial published this week, they think it is wrong for Israel to receive Putin and urge it to cancel the visit.


Putin to Visit Israel. Not Obama. Jonathan S. Tobin 06.12.2012 - 4:18 PM

Jewish Democrats have been imploring President Obama to visit Israel to no avail ever since he was elected. But while the president has conspicuously avoided Israel during his foreign trips even when visiting the Middle East, the authoritarian running a far less friendly country has no scruples about coming to the Jewish state. The Times of Israel reports today that Vladimir Putin, who recently returned to the presidency of the Russian Federation after slumming for a few years in the prime minister’s office, will be heading to Israel later this month.

Putin will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and dedicate a monument in Netanya to soldiers of the Red Army who were killed during World War II. He will also visit the Palestinian territories and Jordan. The visit will be Putin’s second to Israel as the leader of Russia (he previously visited in 2005) and puts President Obama’s refusal to go to Israel in an interesting light. Even though the president has embarked on a year-long Jewish charm offensive motivated by his desire to hold onto the Jewish vote this November, his decision not to try and win Israeli hearts and minds by coming to their country is curious, especially because it would be to his political advantage to do so.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that at the end of his 90-minute meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev today, President Obama said he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him “space.”

The exchange was picked up by microphones as reporters were let into the room for remarks by the two leaders.

Here’s the exchange:

President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

I imagine scores of voters will find it comforting to know President Obama is sharing his plans for a second term with both Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, even if he’s keeping them secret from the American people. And can anyone guess what it means when Obama says he’ll have “more flexibility” after his “last election”? A hint: This is a president who shelved his predecessor’s plan to build a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in order to “reset” our relations with Russia – and Obama did this without receiving any concessions from Russia in advance or since. (Russia has, in fact, been a consistent thorn in our side.) This action was also (rightly) seen as a betrayal by our allies in Eastern Europe. We can only imagine what a second Obama term would mean in terms of unwise concessions and reckless agreements with Russia, Iran, North Korea and countless other nations.

Like Jimmy Carter before him, we have a president today who, by instinct and disposition, is hard on our allies and weak toward our adversaries. It is not the kind of thing you hope to find in a commander-in-chief.

The unmasking of Barack Obama continues — comment by comment, law by law, act by act.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

Isaiah Chapter 17, verse 1:

An oracle concerning Damascus. Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city, and will become a heap of ruins.

Getaroom 2 years, 2 months ago

We live in the world of Free Market Capitalism, one in which the markets decide what the outcome will be - through competition. That seems fair. So, let competition decide who wins and who loses it has worked out so well for the people hasn't it?. Oh, you mean lives are at steak and we don't apply the rules of economics to making war because that would mean taking sides?

Since The Bible is to be conveniently taken literally in this case, perhaps we should let It's Truth come a natural conclusion.

Who's to say that is wrong? It was meant to be - right!

jhawkinsf 2 years, 2 months ago

No offense, Ron, but your diatribe scared everyone else away.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 2 months ago

Really? I've even scared myself about what all this might lead to.

Keep in mind - the citizens of the United States are not at all popular in Syria.

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