Following the “successful” intervention in Libya in 2011 the next Western-led action may not be in Iran, but in Syria. Sensationalistic news reporting in recent weeks over massacres first in Houla and later in Qubeir have been held up as examples par excellence that President Bashar al-Assad is a monster who must go the way of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi.
In turmoil for well over one year, Syria is spiraling toward civil war. The resistance that was smashed in Homs, near the locations of the most recent massacres, was thought to have ended the regime crisis, but the violence has continued.
The impetus to remove President Assad is doubtlessly noble in intention. An autocrat to the bone, Assad is doing what any autocrat would do to remain in power. But is it in America’s interests to assist rebels in their fight against the dictator?
Via Doug Mataconis of “Outside the Beltway,” reports are surfacing that it was in fact Syrian rebels, not elements of Assad’s army who were the perpetrators of the 90 civilian deaths in Houla, most of whom were members of the minority Shia Alawite clan that has ruled Syria for decades. Such does not sound like the handiwork of an army defending the regime.
Yet that has not stopped uber-interventionists from John McCain to Joe Lieberman to Marco Rubio from favoring arming the rebels or eventually intervening. But if Houla is an example of what the resistance is capable of what will further arming them portend? Is a resistance that’s carrying out ethnic reprisals in America’s interests? Are these reflexive interventionists proposing the U.S. arm rebels who slaughter civilians? Isn’t that the case they are making against Assad?
The simple answer is that the United States has little to gain by involving itself in (another) conflict. What empirical evidence exists to believe that arming the rebels will postpone a civil war or that the rebels themselves represent an improvement for Syrians over the current regime?
Of course, Libya hasn’t turned up roses yet either. Not only is tribal warfare rampant, but the country is breaking into militia zones and the power vacuum created by Gaddafi’s death has led caches of weapons to flow into nearby Mali which is fast becoming a haven for Islamic extremists. And this was the successful intervention.
The best thing going for Assad right now might not be Russia’s tenuous protection at the UN, but the American election. An embattled President Obama cannot desire putting a new foreign conflict on the front pages when he is already trying to sell a foreign policy record to the American public as a success.
So Assad may be safe through November at which point he may have finally quelled his rebellious factions. That may very well be what the interventionists fear. The uprisings might be over before they can have another clean little war. But after November is another story.
Libya is considered a good intervention because it was bloodless for Americans and it had bipartisan support, but with chaos reigning neither the intervention nor its effects are over. The truth on the ground tells another story. The same would be true in Syria, but since Libya was tidy from the perspective of most Americans, the urge to eventually replicate it in Syria will be tempting.
What is clear, however, is that who rules Syria is not a pertinent American interest and for once the bipartisan ruling class ought to consider the repercussions of its interventions.