"In Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Libya, all that’s left is a single question: Can the people in these countries who for so long have been governed vertically — from the top down — now govern themselves horizontally by writing their own social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens with regular rotations in power and without iron fists from above."
Allow me to set your mind at ease, Tom. The answer is "no."
Asserting, "It is still unclear to me where the president is going with Syria, but I see only three possible strategies: the realist, the idealist and the God-I-hope-we-are-lucky approaches," Friedman concludes:
"Fighting for democratic values — rather than for family, sect, tribe or Shariah — is still a new thing for these societies. Those who are fighting for a sectarian or Islamist outcome, though, are full of energy and well financed. That’s why staying out guarantees that only more bad things will happen, but going in, big or small, would not guarantee success. And that’s why I’d like to hear which option Obama is pursing [sic] and why he thinks it would succeed."
Again, allow me to set your mind at ease, Tom. Obama is pursuing the "red line" is not a "red line" procrastination option. Procrastination has characterized his foreign policy, which has not met with success, but perhaps has averted failure.
What do I think? I don't believe that Friedman's "idealist" option is practical, i.e. "a unified, multisectarian and democratic Syria." Sunnis living in peace with Shiites, or, in the case of Syria, Alawites? Democracy in the Muslim Middle East? Spare me.
Friedman's "realist" approach - awaiting the partition of Syria following a bloody protracted quagmire - strikes me as unethical and dangerous. Just watch from the sidelines as tens of thousands of more civilians die and as Syria's enormous stockpiles of chemical weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates? I don't think so.
And Friedman's "lucky" approach - providing the rebels with small arms and hoping that Assad ultimately agrees to abdicate - is not going to happen. Assad knows what will befall his minority Alawite clan if he flees the field.
On the other hand, I do believe in a fourth "humanitarian" option, commensurate with America's standing as a superpower and bulwark of human rights, which would penalize Assad for killing innocent civilians, provide Syria's Kurds with independence and dignity, demand an end to sectarian killing, and frustrate Iranian aspirations for Middle East hegemony. Yes, this might entail enforcing a no-fly zone, but would not require boots on the ground.
Is President Obama capable of moving in this direction and taking control of the course of events? No. It's not the nature of the man.
So what will happen? In the past, I never expected massive armed Hezbollah assistance to Assad, which blunted rebel advances. (Stated very succinctly, my past predictions were dead wrong.) But given that Qatar has already begun to supply the Sunni rebels with RPGs and shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, and inasmuch as the ranks of the rebels could soon be bolstered by tens of thousands of Egyptian volunteers, the tide of this war could again change.
Without a doubt, many more Syrian civilians are destined to die if this carnage doesn't end soon.