Thinking About Syria

Does anyone in any position of responsibility realize that for the Alawites lead by Assad, this is a matter of life and death?  That if they don’t win the civil war, they are in for a round of murder and pillage at the hands of their enemies?  While they are Muslims, they are considered to be a sort of heretical Islam by the dominant Sunni Muslims and for centuries before Syria fell under French rule post-WWI, they were oppressed by their fellow Muslims.  To be sure, they have used cruelty and chicanery to gain and maintain mastery as a minority Ruling Class in Syria, but now the fat is in the fire – the Alawites are not expecting mercy and brotherhood from the other side if they lose, so they’ll fight on until destroyed or they have secured their own homes and families.  Lobbing a few missiles at them will not make them stop doing whatever they think proves necessary to, at minimum, maintain their control over predominantly Alawite ares of Syria.  Only an army more powerful than they can do the trick…and if you’re wondering why this minority of 12% of Syria’s population has maintained control for decades and has an even chance of winning the Civil War look no further than the fact that the Alawites retained for themselves the best weapons…and constituted a majority of the total Syrian armed forces pre-Civil War.

I bring this up because no one seems to be thinking along these lines – that people with their backs to the wall are not likely to be easily swayed.  We’re treating them as if they are concerned about the whole of Syria and its welfare.  In some theoretical sense, this might be true – but in the concrete, the Alawite soldiers are fighting for lives of their wives and children.  These people will not go down easily.  Of course, they are not the only minority group in Syria.  In fact, Syria is a grab-bag of minority groups.  Sure, its overwhelmingly Muslim – but there are nearly as many Christians as there are Alawites (and the Christians probably do favor the Alawites because, point blank, the more secular-minded Alawites have tended to live and let live with the Christians…meanwhile, the rebels are increasingly infected with Islamism, and so Christians are increasingly brutalized); Islam in Syria is broken up in to quite a lot of different sects.

Syria isn’t really a nation as we think of it – its just another one of those colonial left-overs.  Ruled for centuries by the Turks, taken over by the French post-WWI, the people there never thought of themselves as “Syrians” in the sense that we think of ourselves as “Americans”…people with a common history, a shared set of basic values and a willingness to sink sectarian differences for the good of the larger community.  Essentially, the Alawites have provided what the Ottomans provided until 1918 and the French until 1946 – a group of people who keep down everyone else, until just lately, when for a variety of reasons a rebellion broke out (not in any case the first), at a time when non-Syrian forces were willing to back the rebels (and not us, good people – quite a lot of Gulf State Muslim money has poured in to the rebels).  And don’t think the rebels are keen on establishing a republic in which all Syrians live in brotherhood.  There might be a few such trotted out to meet with a junketing Senator McCain, but most of them are primarily interested in securing their own particular interests…and, if things work out, grabbing the sort of power the Alawites have held on to since the 1970’s.  I almost hate to point this out, but the only thing which can be found in common among most Syrians is probably a loathing of Israel…but even that has been set aside so that they can kill each other in a mad scramble for power.

Crucial to any expectations of results is to understand the reality of things.  Syria is not just “Syria”.  Its a lot of different things and the people battling there with extreme cruelty have clear ideas of what they want.  If we don’t have a clear idea of what we want and how it relates to the reality on the ground in Syria, then whatever we do will fail.  This does not at all preclude a diplomatic solution to the problem, by the way – in fact, it opens up wide vistas of diplomatic action, if we will understand the facts and figure out what it is we want.

Furthermore, we do have the power to impose a solution – our weight thrown on to any particular side will allow that side to emerge victorious.  If, that is, we make it clear that if we decide to come in on a side that we’ll come all the way in with whatever level of force would prove necessary.  Half measure won’t do; lobbing a few missiles is absurd.  If we want to have any particular result in Syria, then we have to will the means as well as envision the ends.  We could, perhaps, use our overwhelming power to convince all sides that it is time to sit down and talk – to set up some sort of federal or cantonal system of government which will allow each major element its own absolute sphere, surrendering only enough power to the central government as is necessary to make Syria a functional, national unit.  Carrots for everyone – and a threat of the Big Stick for anyone who decides that they’d rather keep fighting instead of negotiating a settlement…and, yes, this does mean that in certain circumstances we throw our weight behind Assad’s Alawites (if not behind Assad, who probably could be eased out by Alawites convinced that we’ll ensure their lives and property against revenge).

But if we are not willing to envision an end and unwilling to provide the means to achieve the end, then it is best we stay out.  At this stage of the game, staying out is probably the best course of action – mostly because Obama has botched it so badly to this point. It is not because people are getting isolationist that intervention in Syria is unpopular, but because Obama has proven himself a fool and no one wants to dive in to a murky situation without some idea of what we hope to accomplish, what it might cost and how long it will take.  But good things can be done with American power – wisdom is not to be found in launching endless wars, nor in the twin follies of pacifism and isolationism.  Clear headed, rational thinking informed by the actual facts can get us out of this mess – and help the people of Syria, in to the bargain.  My prayer is that some how, some way even Obama will start to see things clearly and a reasonable, humane policy will emerge.

UPDATE:  I’ve pondered it some more and here’s a follow-on comment I left elsewhere:

…(we have) all the ingredients which cool headed diplomacy can make much hay with.  If we understood diplomacy (ie, if we didn’t have Obama and team in charge) we would long-ago have said that our interest is peace in Syria and to that end we will exert pressure on all sides to engage in talks to reform the government of Syria to secure absolutely minority rights.  Once that announcement is made, support can be rounded up in the world for the effort and support built at home for a forward policy – while backstairs negotiations let all and sundry know that we are determined upon a peace settlement to be imposed on the warring sides with the carrot being US and international help to rebuild and the stick being US force being thrown against whichever sides proves most resistant to compromise (in other words, we’re telling them that we’ll even fight on Assad’s side, if he proves most willing to compromise).  Once the preliminary work is done, we call a conference of all the interested parties to reach an agreement to embargo all arms and impose sanctions on the warring factions…Russia, China and Iran would strongly object to this (and thus no such thing could be done through the UN…which is why we’d ignore the UN and go for genuine diplomacy), and we’d lay down the marker:  we’re going to do this and we’re willing to fight…and if Russia, China and Iran want to fight us in order to maintain their particular clients in Syria, then let’s have at it.  They would back down in front of that as no one in the world wants to go to actual war with the United States of America.  Once a cease-fire agreement is hammered out it is presented to the Syrian factions and they are given 36 hours to comply or face sustained military action by the United States until they do agree.  More than likely, all but the Islamist fanatics would agree, and they could be swiftly exterminated.  We can then mid-wife in Syria a Cantonal form of government allowing each group to keep its own while cooperating to sustain the larger entity of Syria.

At any rate, that’s what I would do.

16 thoughts on “Thinking About Syria

  1. dougq September 9, 2013 / 2:17 am

    I would think that the Ottoman Empire probably had it right. For that particular region with the fighting sects and the religions they had, whether it’s Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, you name it, their stability would be so much more guaranteed now if it was set up like the Ottoman Empire had it.

    One big conquering entity putting the fear over the region but allowing significant autonomous rule. Too bad outside forces put an end to the Ottoman empire, I imagine if it weren’t for that and if they decided to stop expanding, that whole region would be relatively stable today, and likely more free and more advanced.

    • M. Noonan September 9, 2013 / 12:01 pm

      Its worthwhile to remember that the Ottoman Empire was sustained in existence from the Battle of Mohacs (1687) until World War One by the greater European powers…partially because they couldn’t agree on how the Empire should be partitioned, but partially because the Ottomans kept a lid on some very turbulent, barbaric people (some of whom were Christians, especially in the Balkans, of course).

      I don’t see that as the ideal solution – I think a cantonal system like that of Switzerland is best for Syria…while there is, of course, overlap in where various ethnic groups live, there are in general areas of Syria where each group predominates…in other words, the making of cantons. Actually, the French did a bit of that themselves when they ruled Syria (there was, for instance, an Alawite State under French rule). The use of US power – and it would end up being backed, I think, but significant numbers of well-disposed nations around the world – to knock heads together and get people to talk or face complete military defeat could bring this about. Remember, Russia and Iran are sustaining Assad because Assad is their client; the Gulf State Arabs are sustaining the rebels because of their religious affinity to the rebels. Neither the rebels and their sponsors nor Assad and his sponsors are thinking of Syria…its a mad fight for absolute power. American diplomacy backed up by credible threats of overwhelming American force can bring out the interests of Syria, as a whole.

      The real pity is that no one – and I think this goes even for our enemies – understands either diplomacy or military power. I think all around the world, ignorant fools are in charge…an hour of a Disreali or a Kaunitz, and we’ve have this thing solved.

      • percybeezer September 9, 2013 / 1:30 pm

        Syria is majority Sunni; I thought we were told that the Sunni and Shi’a (Iran) were bitter enemies for thousands of years and will never cooperate except in their hatred of the West.

        Yet, here’s a proxy Sunni government supported and controlled by a Shi’a government.

        Huh, who knew?

      • M. Noonan September 9, 2013 / 2:20 pm

        Not quite – the Alawites who run Syria don’t quite fall in to the Sunni/Shia dichotomy. Though, of course, you’re right on this point – Assad’s Alawites are secularist/socialist/nationalist and supposedly wouldn’t cooperate with Iran’s theocrats. That is another thing our leaders don’t understand – in the desire to obtain and retain power, people will do all sorts of things.

      • neocon01 September 9, 2013 / 2:52 pm

        These are the cut throats u-bomba wants to help???

        Syrian rebels threaten Christians with death if they don’t convert to Islam…

        ‘Either convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded’…

      • dougq September 9, 2013 / 11:21 pm

        Mark, that was an agreement because different factions outside the Ottoman Empire couldn’t agree on how to partition it up amongst themselves. The actual Ottoman empire was doing a pretty good job itself, except for defending itself from outside forces (due mostly to expanding too far). I personally believe the approach by the French and the allies ruined what was actually stability….sure it created nations with artificial lines to battle over, but the end result was a lot more aggression than what was happening while rule by the Empire.

        As Americans we might like the idea that each country and it’s people have democratic rule, but basically what happened would be the equivalent of if an outside entity decided to dissolve our Federal government and allow each state complete autonomous rule.

        What would happen here if that was the case? Well, the civil war would just have been the fifth act in our history of state vs. state warfare.

        The Ottoman Empire would have been closer to say, the U.S. during the 1930s, 40’s with FDR and what our states had as far as their power was concerned (except with an anti-socialist/liberal leaning).

        Just my opinion, anyhow, on what I think would be the best geopolitical solution to that whole region as far as stability would be concerned.

  2. J. R. Babcock (@JRBabcock) September 9, 2013 / 9:10 am

    If we can figure out a way to help the innocent victims caught in the cross fire, I would be all for allowing the two sides engaged in the conflict to keep on killing each other as long as possible.

    • M. Noonan September 9, 2013 / 12:07 pm

      I don’t know if there are any 100% innocent victims – the Christians would come closest as longest oppressed and most powerless, but who is to say, for certain? Other than a solution which involves killing everyone, the solution has to include everyone…and I think that can be done, if there is a credible threat that those who keep fighting will be exterminated to the last man.

    • Amazona September 9, 2013 / 1:36 pm

      I have started to wonder just how many “innocent victims” there really are, as it seems that the children grow up to be murderous fanatics and the women produce children which they then send off to become murderous fanatics. If your whole life is based upon blind allegiance to a system/religion which demands murderous fanaticism, it is hard to sort out just how “innocent” you are.

  3. neocon01 September 9, 2013 / 9:17 am

    islam is a barbaric 16th century moon worshiping cult. There are no innocents but the Christian population. The rest are future crazy loons with low IQ’s and zero education, I say let them thin the herd to as close to zero as possible….THEN we will have a few decades of peace.

  4. neocon01 September 9, 2013 / 2:57 pm


    John McCain: John Kerry ‘unbelievably unhelpful’
    one insane lunatic praising a traitor who abetted the enemy who tortured him……TERM LIMITS Pulllllease….

    • M. Noonan September 10, 2013 / 2:24 am

      Just two Ruling Class fools – fortunately, they are pretty old. But, I’ll bet Kerry is actually thinking about running in 2016…

  5. Amazona September 10, 2013 / 9:15 am

    The reason I don’t even consider any of the options presented for American intervention in Syria is the lack of will and backbone of the American people. We have become a nation of instant gratification wimps who simply lack the attention span, much less the grit, to follow through on anything.

    I am afraid we will get ourselves into something that, as an objective “something” I personally might think would be a good thing, only to have some demagogue come along and distract the fickle and feckless American public away from it, to gain political power. Then there would be the hysteria, the demands to quit before the job is done, the change in direction that would make all the prior sacrifice meaningless, and further weakening of the nation.

    We were strong not just because we were big, or rich, but because AMERICANS were seen as tough. I doubt that any world leader would attack us now and then reflect that he may have “awakened a sleeping giant”. If we were to stir at all, these days, it would be to whine and grump on the way to the feed trough.

    We pose no real threat to anyone. Anyone outside the country, anyway.

    • dougq September 10, 2013 / 10:44 am

      ” I doubt that any world leader would attack us now and then reflect that he may have “awakened a sleeping giant”.”

      I don’t know, I’m guessing one probable future path in Syria was that Congress votes down authorization, Obama launches the Tomahawks, Russia and Chinese blow up one of our ships, then claim it was an accident that they thought they were being shot at, and Obama tells the Navy to stand down then goes on national TV and announces that the U.S. will take the high ground and not retaliate against the poor decisions of Putin and the Chinese.

      It’s probably very probable in the CIA potential outcomes computer program, hence grab that safety line and don’t go there.

      • Amazona September 10, 2013 / 11:31 am

        I think that scenario sounds way too complicated and a little tinfoil-hatty.

        What we heard yesterday was Obama trying to appease everyone by offering something to everyone: “We will stand up for what I said we would stand up for, we will deal with those who crossed that big red line, we don’t want to support Assad but we sure don’t want to upset our beloved Muslim Brotherhood, so we will do something but it will be a teeny tiny something that they won’t even notice, a token something so everyone on both sides will be happy…”

        And then Big Brother Vladimir stepped in with a “solution” that will spare Obama from having to even do a little head fake of a pseudo-response.

        So I am guessing that he is going to thank Putin for giving him an out, and will go along with this Russian plan to take over the WMD so he can lay claim to diplomatic skill by taking credit for resolving the problem without force. This will be trumpeted to the skies as a brilliant strategic move put together by brilliant diplomatic strategists and we will be told how lucky we are to be led by such wise and thoughtful people who are so smart they can avoid war by using words.

        And the totally predictable Unintended Consequences of having these WMD controlled by unnamed people in some unidentified country which probably doesn’t have the best interests of the U.S. at heart? Kick that can on down the road. It will be someone else’s problem and by then the spin doctors will have had time to find someone else to blame, to keep it from sticking to the Obama Legacy.

        Who cares if WMD are really removed from Syria? We didn’t care when they went INTO Syria in nightly convoys of tractor-trailer rigs, documented by our satellites, while the craven U.S. dithered for a year about what to do about cranky old Uncle Saddam and the evidence of his wrongdoing was removed right in front of our eyes. After this debacle (which was then recast by the Loony Left as “proof” the WMD were never there in the first place in the Blame Bush hysteria) we are supposed to buy into some scheme in which WMD Syria claims it does not have are now to be handed over to someone else, to be taken somewhere else and handled by someone else?

        It’s all a big old shell game, and the end result will be what it always has been since the U.S. became not a sleeping giant but a toothless giant sloth.

  6. Retired Spook September 10, 2013 / 12:37 pm

    From the YCMTSU file, it looks like the U.S. strategy going forward may be the result of our brain-dead Secretary of State plagiarizing a popular comedian’s tweet. I don’t know whether to laugh of cry.

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