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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Thomas Friedman, "Syria Scorecard": A Hundred More Died Yesterday

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Syria Scorecard" (, would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman describes the 1918 collapse of the Ottoman Empire and asks:

"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.


  1. From the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran to the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 by the radical Muslim Brotherhood - the will of the masses across the Muslim world has always been to replace their leaders with even stricter, more totalitarian, more religious, more anti-Western governments. And where Islamist extremism didn't come about through revolution it happened through the ballot box - like in Turkey. To suggest that the Arab world is fighting for Democracy is like saying that the Irish are fighting for Prohibition.

    So who's right on the conflict in Syria? Obama, who keeps adjusting his red line while hoping for change or, Sarah Palin who suggested last week that we "let Allah sort 'em out"?

    For the answer, I think I'll re-watch the epic movie "Lord of War" (2005) and try to figure out what Yuri Orlov would have done in this situation.

    Yuri Orlov:

    "Every faction in Africa calls themselves by these noble names - Liberation this, Patriotic that, Democratic Republic of something-or-other... I guess they can't own up to what they usually are: the Federation of Worse Oppressors Than the Last Bunch of Oppressors. Often, the most barbaric atrocities occur when both combatants proclaim themselves Freedom Fighters."

    "The reason I'll be released is the same reason you think I'll be convicted. I *do* rub shoulders with some of the most vile, sadistic men calling themselves leaders today. But some of these men are the enemies of *your* enemies. And while the biggest arms dealer in the world is your boss - the President of the United States, who ships more merchandise in a day than I do in a year - sometimes it's embarrassing to have his fingerprints on the guns. Sometimes he needs a freelancer like me to supply forces he can't be seen supplying. So. You call me evil, but unfortunately for you, I'm a necessary evil."

    You betcha!

  2. Here's the synopsis and unofficial White House policy on Syria for those who didn't have time to see the entire movie.

    "You know who's going to inherit the Earth? Arms dealers. Because everyone else is too busy killing each other. That's the secret to survival. Never go to war. Especially with yourself."

  3. Ian Fleming probably got this right when he wrote: Live and Let Die.
    There is no solution that the West can impose. Absolutely zero chance of "Democratic Solution". Islam and democracy, as we know it, are incompatible. Not least because 50% of the population - the women - are not considered equal to the men - despite all the apologetic pro-Islamic gobbledegook spouted by liberal humanists in the West and given so much latitude in the NY Times, nothing will gloze over this.
    A no-fly zone might help create a more level playing field where the rest and the West can observe Shias and Sunnis slaughter each other under "fairer" conditions. At least that is cricket.