Syrian Peace Plan Probably the Best We Can Hope For

By John Zmirak Published on December 31, 2016

We learned this week that a cease-fire agreement may be put in place in Syria, which could put a stop to the savage civil war, and result in the least-awful outcome — a decentralized state where the embittered religious and ethnic groups rule over their own cantons (as in Bosnia), instead of trying to slit each other’s throats. A million Syrian Christians could escape ethnic cleansing at the hands of al Qaeda militias, and the Kurds might gain the autonomy they deserve. 

The news about the ongoing civil war in Syria is hard to follow for many reasons. First of all, it’s an ugly and complicated story, with no unambiguous heroes and a superabundance of villains. Americans are a “can-do” kind of people, and we find it hard to believe that there’s a situation in the world which we couldn’t step in and fix. When we do hit a place where the facts prove that just isn’t possible, we quickly lose interest in it. It doesn’t fit our interpretive grid, so we cease to notice it. 

The U.S. Couldn’t Fix Syria. So Russia Filled the Vacuum.

It turned out that we couldn’t fix Syria, where President Obama encouraged opposition groups to join the “Arab Spring” and overthrow their long-time secular dictator, Bashir Assad. The hope was that this would result in a multi-party, religiously tolerant government just like that other place in the Middle East with such a government … hard to think of one… oh yeah — Israel. That’s the whole list.

Clearly, even the Obama administration didn’t think that Syria would turn out like Israel, so it must have had some other outcome in mind. Maybe it was hoping that Syria would turn into a Muslim Brotherhood Islamist state, as Egypt did for a while (before reverting to an old-style military dictatorship).

Perhaps that isn’t fair. There’s a good chance that the White House expected Syria instead to turn out much more like Libya, where the central government simply dissolved and the whole place broke down into proto-feudal chaos, with large segments ruled by ISIS or al Qaeda. If so, Obama got his wish, since that is exactly what happened.

The only difference in Syria is that there existed a small, weak “moderate” secular opposition, which American neoconservatives such as Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain could pretend was a viable contender for taking power. Because then it could join the ranks of other tolerant secular democratic governments in the region, such as … well, Israel. And if Obama wouldn’t commit overwhelming U.S. force to “Operation Syrian Freedom,” then Republicans ought to denounce him for appeasing our foreign enemies, such as … well, Russia!

There’s Egg and Spam, Sausage and Spam, Egg Bacon and Spam …

Both the liberal internationalists in the White House and the Johnny Democracy-Seeds in the Senate seem to ignore the foundational fact of the Muslim Middle East — that there are only three live options on the menu:

  1. An Islamist state that crushes religious minorities, including dissident Muslims, but especially Christians, and is hostile to Israel.
  2. A secular military dictatorship that represses Islamists and fitfully protects religious minorities, and is hostile to Israel.
  3. Total chaos, with roving bands of bandits waving different verses from the Quran, each of which slaughters religious minorities, and is hostile to Israel.

The Obama administration lit the fuse in Syria by pretending that the U.S. was willing to commit sufficient force to overthrow the Assad administration — which hawkish Republicans would have been willing to do, even if it meant another quagmire like Iraq. In fact, we were bluffing. Bashir Assad and Vladimir Putin knew that, and the latter helped the former cling to power, in exchange for the Russians gaining influence in the region — as they used to have, all through the Cold War.

Now it seems that Syria will effectively be divided into federal districts under a weak central government.

A Sane Solution: Federalism for Syria

Now, if the cease-fire holds, Syria could effectively be divided into federal districts under a weak central government. About a third will go to the intolerant Sunnis who rule most of the Middle East, who will gradually displace the equally intolerant Sunnis of ISIS. The rulers of this region will keep their al Qaeda links and get lots of Saudi and Turkish funding. One-third will go to the Kurds, who deserve an independent state and sooner or later will get one — despite the savage fury of the intolerant Turkish government. And one-third of Syria will remain in the hands of the Alawites and Shiites, who are aligned with Iran and Russia.

The Christian minority in Syria (the group I care about, since few others care about them) will probably be safest in the Alawite/Shiite region, though the Kurds have included Christians in government and military affairs. The one place where Christians face a virtual no-go zone is the Sunni region, which takes its direction from American “ally” Saudi Arabia — where Christianity is simply illegal. Had John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio had their druthers, those Sunnis would have conquered all of Syria, with robust American aid, resulting in the same mass-expulsion of Christians that happened under our noses in Iraq. But they lost, Trump won, and it’s all Putin’s fault.

Happy New Year.

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