Syria

Obama and Neocons Seem Aligned in Pushing for Problematic Syrian Involvement

Shift in policy expected despite rise of Jihadist influences in the conflict.

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Credit: FreedomHouse/flickr

The Obama Administration could soon announce a change in its policy toward Syria, the Washington Post reports. That change would likely include providing arms to some of President Basher Assad's opposition.

We knew something like this might be coming. While President Barack Obama had said he opposed plans–backed by then-CIA director David Petraeus, then-secretary of defense Leon Panetta, and then-secretary of state Hilary Clinton–to directly arm Syrian rebels, The New York Times reported earlier this month that the president was reconsidering that stance. If Obama commits the U.S. to arming Syrian rebels, it will be the latest example of Obama thinking and acting like a neoconservative.

Ann Coulter put this brand of neoconservatism on display recently during an appearance on Stossel, where she said that countries like Syria and Iran were good candidates for "regime change" and that support for "insurgents" should be considered. On the Hill, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have been arguing that the U.S. should be arming the rebels in Syria, saying that doing so would weaken Iran's influence in the Middle East and hasten Assad's downfall.

Unfortunately for neoconservatives and other interventionists, recent news from Syria indicates that Al Qaeda-linked militants fighting against Assad are increasing in popularity and influence. While no one could reasonably argue for the moral legitimacy of the Assad regime, whose forces are responsible for the torture and mass killings of civilians, Islamic radicals are involved in the conflict, and it is not obvious that the sort of support neoconservatives would like to lend to the Syrian rebels would make safer America or the surrounding region. 

It would be unfair to characterize the neoconservative position as one that advocates for the arming jihadists in order to overthrow Assad at any cost. McCain has argued that the U.S. could help channel weapons to the rebels in Syria through "third world countries" and the Arab League. However, it is not clear that such a mechanism of delivering weapons would be able to avoid arms falling into the hands of jihadists, who some estimate make up almost a quarter of Assad's opposition. As evil as Assad is, his regime is being overthrown by a rebel force with a sizeable jihadist contingency that could use Syria as a base for future attacks against not only Shiite populations but also Europe and the U.S.

Aside from the concerns about the makeup of the Syrian rebels it is worth legislators considering the extent to which the conflict in Syria is affecting the region. Part of what is motivating lawmakers like McCain is concern over Iran's growing influence. The Syrian regime is one of Iran's most important strategic allies, and the involvement of Iranian forces in the conflict is strong evidence that Iran is very invested in Assad staying in power.

Aside from Iran, Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon are also reportedly involved in the Syrian conflict, fighting on the side of Assad with Iranian assistance. The involvement of Hezbollah fighters has prompted Israel to take a more direct role in the conflict, with Israeli fighters having carried out a strike on a convoy near the Lebanon-Syria border. In Syria's north, Kurds have become involved in the fighting, and Turkey responded to strikes on its territory back in October.

Even were we to accept that interventionist regime change is sometimes morally justified, the geopolitical and ideological complexity of the situation in Syria should remind American policy makers of how poorly past interventions have worked out in Iraq and Afghanistan, two other countries with complicated domestic situations. It should give interventionists like Senators McCain and Graham pause. Not only does the complexity of the Syrian conflict mean that it is unclear what a post-Assad Syria will look like, it is far from obvious that arming rebels in a conflict in the Middle East that involves opposing terrorist organizations, nationalists, and the influence of Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, and Israel will make American interests safer.

In his most recent State of the Union Address the president only mentioned Syria briefly, saying:

In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy.  The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people.  We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian.

While nothing specific was mentioned, the rhetoric in the speech would allow for the president to arm some Syrian rebels without being accused of hypocrisy. If the adminnistration is, as is expected, going to begin providing military support to some of the Syrian rebels Obama will want to avoid vindicating conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who distanced himself from Mitt Romney before the election, saying:

I do not, however, support a call for intervention in Syria. And, if such intervention were being contemplated, it is absolutely necessary that Congress give any such authority to the president. No president, Republican or Democrat, has the unilateral power to take our nation to war without the authority of the legislature.

An intervention in Syria would not be wise from an American national security perspective, but being against involvement in Syria does not imply that Assad should be in any way excused for the atrocities he has overseen. Although unpleasant elements exist within the Syrian opposition, they have only managed to become a threat to the region thanks to the tragic situation that Assad has allowed to develop. Had Assad decided to respond differently to protests back in early 2011 we would not be in a situation where American policymakers are considering arming an insurgency in a volatile and unpredictable part of the world that already has a tenuous relationship with American foreign policy.

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  1. Why does Obama need to align with anyone? He is President and the media will suck his cock no matter what he does. If Obama wanted to be involved in Syria, we would be involved in Syria.

    1. We’re probably already funneling guns to the Syrian opposition, so most of this is moot.

        1. HM, it appears that the kid is unaware of the fact that Bin-laden denied responsibility for 9/11.

          It also appears that he believes the official conspiracy fable spun by the US government.

          1. Bin Ladin never denied anything. They have a film of him talking about the entire operation.

            Jesus Christ Mike stop it.

            1. Most, if not all, of those videos of “bin Laden” are clearly NOT bin Laden, for example, there is one showing the speaker, claimed to be OBL, wearing a WEDDING RING. Good muslims don’t wear wedding rings. OBL has been dead for a good five years. He had Marfans disease/syndrome.

              Why would anyone, especially a libertarian (leaning) believe anything coming out of the mouth of a big spending, rights taking politician?!

          2. It also appears that he believes the official conspiracy fable spun by the US government.

            Science, Mike, I knew you were a nut ball, but a Truther, too? Yeah, there is not another instance in history where Islamists blew themselves up to murder others. It must be a government conspiracy!

      1. Yes, even though there were already plenty of guns to go around, and because military service is mandatory for all Syrian men, training wasn’t necessary, either.

        I just hope no one honestly believes that the outcome will be anything closer to “freedom” or “democracy” than the Assad dynasty provided, because those concepts are most certainly not motivating Gulf Cooperation Council member states to lend their support to the rebels.

    2. What do you mean, “we”? The US Govt IS involved in Syria, they are funding the “rebels”, and transporting the Al-Qaeda troops they used in deposing Qaddaffi over to Syria. This is not a secret. Hillary has said as much on a number of occasions.

  2. recent news from Syria indicates that Al Qaeda-linked militants fighting against Assad are increasing in popularity and influence.

    Hey, remember about six months ago when I and several other Hit ‘n Run commenters predicted this would happen? And remember how the usual suspects screeched that we were frothing-at-the-mouth Islamophobes for daring to challenge the popular narrative of the Syrian insurgents as George Washington reincarnated?

    An apology would be nice, but I’ll settle for a “yes, you told us so.”

    1. I remember and you were right then and you are right now.

    2. HM, how do you what you do? Adjusting the font and hyperlinking words like that. Also putting the cool grey bar next to text you’re referencing.

      1. The font/hyperlinking isn’t something I see, it’s probably something with your web browser. I had a hyperlink problem some time ago. Is it the sort of link that brings up a little advertisement when you hover over it? If so, it’s probably some sort of addon or cookie. I don’t remember how I got rid of mine, pretty sure it stopped when I got rid of some addon I can’t remember the name of.

        As for the grey bar, that’s a blockquote. Try this.

        1. thank you

    3. We’re looking right at you, Gilmore.

    4. Which reminds me that Shikha Dalmia has been one of the most prominent voices here at Reason mocking the neoconservatives for about a year now as a bunch of “worrywarts” for being concerned about the possible outcome of the so-called “Arab Spring”.

      So which of the two is it, because Feeny and Dalmia can’t both be right.

    5. So. The US is funding the Syrian “rebels”. Al Qaeda is among the militant “rebels”. The US is funding Al Qaeda. How do people not get that this has been the case for over 25 years? Do you not see that everywhere Al Qaeda appears they support the execution of US policy? That they create the conditions for US military involvement?

      1. The US is destabilizing Syria for a couple of reasons: a) to help Israel walk all over them when they so choose, b) Syria is the conduit for aid to Hezbollah and Hezbollah is the only credible counter to Israeli aggression in the region, specifically against Iran, ie, the US is taking out Iran’s ability to counter-attack.

        google: new map of middle east – right there at the top of the page.

  3. MOHAMED AL-LUCY: Come on, Uncle Sam, support our revolution against Syrian tyranny!

    UNCLE CHARLIE BROWN SAM: Wait a minute, didn’t you say the same thing about Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya?

    MOHAMED AL-LUCY: Sure, but then I was only kidding. This time, I promise I won’t pull the football away, and I certainly won’t let our glorious revolution degenerate into some kind of Islamist foolishness.

    UNCLE CHARLIE BROWN SAM: Are you sure?

    MOHAMED AL-LUCY: Sure, this time you can totally trust me, not like those previous occasions. I will just hold the football right here and you can kick it.

    UNCLE CHARLIE BROWN SAM: Well, I suppose that as long as I issue some press releases about my Deep Concern for Islamist influences, I can support your revolution…

    MOHAMED AL-LUCY: That’s the spirit! Don’t be fooled by previous experience, I mean, don’t be some kind of cynical isolationist!

    1. Yup, that ’bout sizes it up.

  4. The abandoned professional class will have their heads chopped off when Assad is granted asylum from Russia. Journalists will not be permitted to cover the massacre of a Christian minority. The cries of raped women will muffle the calls for prayer.

    1. You are correct on this. Assad is protecting more than his own ass now. He is protecting the Syrian Minority which has coexisted in the area for centuries but now have their lives threatened by jihadists.

      1. And our friends in the Sunni monarchies of the GCC have intended this all along. For as long as we have bases in Bahrain and Qatar, and obligate ourselves to “protect” our GCC allies from Iran, we are complicit in the cause of Sunni supremacy.

  5. The big problem is that the mainstream media and the American public persist in viewing politicians on a purely Liberal/Conservative, Left/Right axis.

    Viewed that way, you get inexplicable alliances between groups and elected officials that would seem to violate their entire world view.

    But what if you add at least one more axis? Say, for example, Authoritarian/Libertarian?

    Suddenly, most politicians and non-elected government officials appear tightly clustered on the chart. Not on the Liberal/Conservative axis, but on the Subjects/Citizens one.

    Obama is not primarily a Liberal or Democrat. He’s a Government Maximalist Authoritarian.

    1. Have you seen the Nolan chart?

      theadvocates.org

  6. I am increasingly afraid that Obama has decided that he gets some sort of prize if he manages to get us neck deep in every third-world piss-up going. Will somebody PLEASE tell him that baseball card collecting is not a useful model for a foreign policy?

  7. Had Assad decided to respond differently to protests back in early 2011 we would not be in a situation where American policymakers are considering arming an insurgency in a volatile and unpredictable part of the world that already has a tenuous relationship with American foreign policy.

    That’s right Feeney. The world is a fucked up place and sometimes we have to involve ourselves with the worst kind of folk.

    Think of how many people would still be alive if we had already intervened and kicked Assad into the trash bin of history?

    Time to grow up imbecile!!!

    1. Horseshit. see post above.

  8. Obama miss out on chance to install al-Qaeda in control of another government? Yeah, that’ll be the day.

    Stupid ass neocons, they’re as bad as progtards when it comes to using their emotions as their sole basis for decision making.

    1. ^THIS^

      I’m quoting you on that.

  9. Don’t these guys have any gray clothes?

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  11. Rand Paul is wrong, congress has only the power of the purse, not of command. The declaration of war is is funding power, not a command power. To understand, you have to know military history, which none of you do.

    With regard to Syria, then – Intervening in Syria would be monumentally stupid. The opposition in Syria is riddled with groups who are intensely unfriendly to the United States, and the West in general. The government in Syria, obviously, is also insanely hostile.

    Some conservatives are fond of rooting for intervention all over the place because they know absolutely nothing about the world outside of our borders and, like the readers of Reason, they have no conception of military history or its lessons.

    The opposition in Syria is riddled with very hostile, murderous groups that we should want nothing to do with. The government in Syria IS a very hostile, murderous group that we should want nothing to do with. For me, that clears it up quite nicely: We ain’t going.

    There is a lobby within the U.S. military and various “think tanks” (running a little dry, are we?) that worships a concept they call counterinsurgency (COIN), which is a name they give to something they NOTHING about. The high priests of this cult of idiocy are veteran officers generally known as COINistas. COINistas are pseudointellectual twits who would like to do war by Kumbaya. Picture Sally Stuthers, with machine guns.

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  13. You know, it would be nice if the author of this or any piece could provide actual proof of the atrocities being waged in the country being linked to Assad. I have many friends who live in the country and they have witnessed their friends being killed by jihadists who then drag the people out in the street and claim that the government did it. They are trying to create confusion and chaos there and just screaming that a regime that is not friendly to the West is responsible, and we buy it with no proof. I am disappointed with Reason spreading this propaganda.

    1. Americans went into convulsions after the Trayvon Martin media debacle. You just have to sing us a pretty song, shed a tear, and plead for assistance. You’ll get it. Then you can set your children on fire.

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