Is There a Case for Aiding Syrian Rebels?
Michael J. Totten's writing for World Affairs believes the conditions are ripe for military intervention and suggests the outcome could be beneficial to the US and Western powers.
“A fresh government in Damascus will almost certainly be less friendly toward Iran and Hezbollah and friendlier toward Lebanon. Beirut will be able to make more of its own decisions, which are naturally closer to what the US and Israel would like, even if they aren’t ideal.”
Totten’s laundry list for reasons why is long and correct and strategically he makes a compelling case. In Syria, Assad has continued his father’s legacy of running a ruthless regime, supporting terrorism, disrupting the peace process with Israel, and is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the region; including US and coalition forces in Iraq. Moreover, its close relationship with Iran shows Syria’s unwillingness to negotiate meaningfully with the West. Additionally, removing Assad would eliminate the only Arab regime friendly to Iran. Syria is the country that Iran uses as a logistical-hub to arm and supply Hezbollah in Lebanon and gain influence in Gaza and West Bank. Remove an Iranian-friendly Syria from the board, and Tehran’s influence recedes back to the gulf.
Socially and politically, Totten gives the Syrians a fair shot at becoming a successful state if Assad were to be removed. His analysis rests on the presumption that the social makeup in Syria is different from Libya and Egypt. Meaning, should the US lend support to Syria and oust Assad, the threat of an Islamist government taking over, say, under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), isn’t as likely.
According to Totten, Syria has a middle-class that inhabits several Syrian cities, notably Aleppo, Latakia, and Damascus among lesser ones throughout the country, which would prevent a large Islamic movement. This is because the middle and upper classes’ social outlook tends to be more moderate, at least compared to the rest of the region. In his view, this will prevent the MB from gaining a strong foothold in urban areas like it did in mostly backward states such as Libya and Egypt.
The MB in Syria may understand this already as they have announced, as part of their governing platform, to turn Syria into a civil state and not an Islamic one. Of course, whether that would actually be the case remains to be seen. However, the Sunni population, when compared to the Shia and other religious blocs, does tend to give that hypothesis weight.
Still, the question everyone asks is what would we get in return? Can thus US sustain another administrative-humanitarian headache, civil war, or failed state? No matter how compelling the case may be for Syria, the likelihood of anti-western forces and Islamic radicals filling the vacuum left in the wake of an ousted Assad is simply too great not to take into account. But if considered, the US would be wise to judge the consequences of getting involved in another Arab-Muslim state.