I can kind of, sort of, understand David French’s mystification. Back in 2011, he wrote a piece that questioned why Muslim countries were so universally hostile to Israel and so universally uninterested in the crimes of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir. Why would a Malaysian Muslim care about the Palestinians and not the suffering Sudanese?
In reading public opinion pieces about Syria, I occasionally come across some evangelical Christian who is aware that Syrian Christians have been more supportive of the Assad regime that they have been of the rebels. Some of these evangelicals support the Assad regime for this reason. They may not know anything about the conflict, but they identify and side with the Christians. I always find this a little jarring. And it’s jarring in the exact same way that Malaysian Muslims’ support for the Palestinians is jarring for David French. This kind of religious solidarity is foreign to me. But it exists, and it must be understood.
In that 2011 piece, Mr. French asked a few speculative questions. Among them:
For some time our elites, on both sides of the aisle, have argued that our problems in the Muslim world have been caused by the so-called “few extremists” who’ve “hijacked” a great faith. But the Arab Spring may very well show the emptiness of that rhetoric. When the crowd (and not the military) finally rules in Egypt, what kind of government will it produce? If the Syrian protestors overthrow Assad, will they recognize Israel? Will they forsake their support for Hezbollah’s terrorist mini-state?
Egyptian politics are still in flux, but nothing very threatening has happened to U.S.-Egypt or Egypt-Israeli relations. At least, not yet. But Hezbollah’s recent entrance into the fighting in Syria, on the side of the Assad regime, shows how little imagination Mr. French had a mere two years ago. Should the rebels prevail in toppling Assad and defeating Hezbollah, how likely is it that the new government will maintain Syria’s support for Hezbollah?
It’s more likely that they will pursue the Shiite organization right to the border of Israel.
Leap forward to today’s National Review Online piece by David French and you enter a different world.
In Syria we face a series of terrible choices. If we do nothing, we further impair our credibility (who will believe any future declaration of a “red line” — will Iran as it builds its bomb?), miss a golden opportunity to diminish Iranian power, and instead potentially grant its key allies a prestige-boosting military victory.
If we intervene by arming or otherwise providing military assistance to the rebels, we will be empowering a motley crew of Sunni jihadists, many with direct ties to al-Qaeda.
But, since this is appearing in the National Review Online, you know that this must be all President Obama’s fault. The invasion of Iraq and the instigation of Sunni-Shi’a conflict cannot have anything to do with the spillover of sectarian fighting into Syria.
So, a myth arises. The myth says that things in Syria may have deteriorated to the point that nothing can be done, but it didn’t have to be this way. Obama could have been more decisive or intervened at an earlier stage when things might still have come out smelling like roses. It goes something like this:
Was there a brief window when decisive aid to early opponents of Assad’s regime would have engineered the outcome we wanted? There was certainly a much greater chance than exists now, and — at the very least — tens of thousands of lives could have been saved.
There’s a logically fallacy in there for you philosophy students, if you care to find it. It’s called “begging the question” and it doesn’t mean “I really want to inquire about something.” Look it up.
To really unpack how stupid Mr. French is, we can look at this paragraph.
That’s not to say that anything is easy in that region, but some choices are more difficult than others. A SOFA for Iraq should have been a top priority. Opposing an Iranian regime that’s been fighting a low-intensity war against the U.S. since 1979 should be a top priority. Opposing Iranian client regimes should have been a top priority. Oh, and diminishing al-Qaeda should always be a priority.
Why was it important to get a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq when Obama ran for president on the promise to get our forces out of Iraq? It wasn’t a pleasant experience when we were occupying their country, and we elected a president to get us out of that quagmire.
If opposing the Iranian regime is supposed to be such a high priority, then why did we take out the one guy in the region with the balls to invade them, and thereby turn his country over to the Iranians’ religious brethren?
It’s all fine to argue that we should oppose Iran’s proxies, but why create them for them? And if our choice in 2011 was whether to side with an Iranian proxy or the al-Qaeda forces opposing him, that is still our choice today.
If there is any potentially valid point to Mr. French’s attempt at an argument, it is that two years of sectarian fighting have hardened sectarian feelings. But let’s not try to use that as an excuse to blame America or the president for the tragedy in Syria. America’s primary fault in this conflict is that we kick-started sectarian violence in the region by toppling a Sunni strongman in a majority-Shi’a country. If we help topple a Shi’a-aligned strongman in a Sunni-majority country, we will merely repeat our mistake.
Under the circumstances, it seems that the only productive thing to do is to stop thinking about prestige and saving-face and to focus on tamping down sectarian rage. It’s clear that Mr. French cares more about kicking Russia and Iran in the teeth than he does about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, or about the eventual fate of Christians, Shiites, and Alawites should the regime fall. In denying the war theater American weapons, Obama has followed the advice that people like Gandhi, King Jr. and Mandela would have given him. Don’t feed the violence.
In reluctantly agreeing to supply small arms, he is hoping to buy time to create the conditions for mediation. It’s the wrong decision, but people like Mr. French, who constitute the common wisdom in Washington, are doing everything they can to force Obama into putting our skin in the game.
He obviously doesn’t understand the region. But the administration does.
For two years, President Obama has resisted being drawn deeper into the civil war in Syria. It was a miserable problem, he told aides, and not one he thought he could solve. At most, it could be managed…
…White House aides on Friday again ruled out sending United States troops and dismissed calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, calling it “dramatically more difficult and dangerous and costly” than it had been in Libya in 2011, as Mr. Rhodes put it. And there is little domestic constituency for another American adventure abroad.
Idiots like Mr. French have already pushed Obama too far. Z-Big is right.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said he was “baffled” by Mr. Obama’s decision to become more deeply involved. “What exactly is our objective?” he asked. “It’s not clear to me that every nondemocratic government in the world has to be removed by force.”
The way Obama has resisted this has been admirable, but they are pushing him inch by inch to the point where we go down the slide.