Syria Hawks Show Us How to Win While Being Wrong About Everything
Max Abrahms and John Glaser have an excellent new column at The Los Angeles Times. It’s about Syria, but far more than Syria. It’s really about how opinion in America is corralled, disciplined, and trained like a circus elephant. Not just on the left but on the right. Abrahms and Glaser deserve our thanks. They will win few friends in influential circles with the truth they point out. As they write:
The rollback of Islamic State must come as a shock to the chorus of journalists and analysts who spent years insisting that such progress would never happen without toppling the regime of Bashar Assad — which is, of course, still standing. A cavalcade of opinion makers long averred that Islamic State would thrive in Syria so long as Assad ruled because the Syrian Arab Army was part of the same disease.
John Bolton, former United Nations ambassador under George W. Bush, insisted in the New York Times that “defeating the Islamic State” is “neither feasible nor desirable” if Assad remains in power. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham asserted that “defeating Islamic State also requires defeating Bashar Assad.” Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution prescribed a policy of “building a new Syrian opposition army capable of defeating both President Bashar al-Assad and the more militant Islamists.” Similarly, Max Boot, a contributing writer to this newspaper, argued that vanquishing Islamic State was futile unless the U.S. also moved to depose the “Alawite regime in Damascus.” Like other regime-change salesmen, he pitched a no-fly zone across the country to facilitate airstrikes against the Assad government, while boosting aid to the so-called moderate rebels.
The Presentable Party Line
If you watched the GOP presidential debates, you heard all the “respectable,” “mainstream” candidates repeat this mantra. Of course, the thuggish Assad regime was every bit as evil as ISIS. Obviously, the U.S. could not permit it to control any portion of Syria. Not even the regions where millions of Alawites and Christians lived, and clung to that dictatorship for protection against jihadis. All decent people admit that the U.S. must pour in tens of millions and thousands of troops. It must threaten to shoot down the jets of nuclear-armed Russia. And why? To install in power the “moderate” rebels. To do any less was to betray our democratic ideals.
That was the party line taken by Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, and every other candidate who spoke up on Syria. Except … for candidates whom we were supposed to wave off as cranks and extremists. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump each had the courage to question the pre-chewed cud that others had taken blindly from hawkish thinktanks and writers. Both Cruz’s campaign and Trump’s were in direct touch with people who had more skin in the game: Iraqi and Syrian Christians, who begged any Americans who’d listen not to repeat the folly we’d committed in Iraq. (I know because my friends helped set up some of the meetings.)
More than a million Iraqi Christians sadly believed that “Operation Iraqi Freedom” meant something. They ended up huddled in makeshift camps. Many of them to this day are freezing or starving in the desert. Many thousands watched their daughters get kidnapped and sex-trafficked by ISIS.
These Christian refugees knew that the “moderate” rebels were a tiny and helpless faction. They regularly let the arms we sent them end up in the hands of hard-line jihadis aligned with al Qaeda, backed by Islamist Turkey and Saudi Arabia. If those factions ruled Syria, religious minorities like the Alawites and Christians would surely end up … like the Yezidis and Christians of Iraq.
The Syria War We Avoided
In Iraq, students of history will remember, we blasted our way in to topple a vicious but secular regime. We claimed to install “democracy,” but in fact turned loose the barely-restrained ancient hatreds of tribe and mosque. More than a million Iraqi Christians sadly believed that “Operation Iraqi Freedom” meant something. They ended up huddled in makeshift camps. Many of them to this day are freezing or starving in the desert. Many thousands watched their daughters get kidnapped and sex-trafficked by ISIS.
Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump each had the courage to question the hawkish party line.
I remember back in 2003, when a few conservatives spoke up to warn about the thoughtless optimism that marked our Iraq war plans. Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote a cover story in National Review. In it, he excommunicated the likes of Bob Novak as “unpatriotic conservatives.” And indeed, they paid a price, for being right.
No Pundit Is Ever Held Accountable
But the Iraq war optimists paid no price for being catastrophically wrong. Remember those pundits who assured us that the Iraq war would create a democratic, pro-American haven? One with religious freedom?
Fifteen years, a trillion dollars, and a million Christian refugees later, they sang the same song about Syria. And “mainstream” Republicans bought it. You’d see these pundits on Fox News and ABC. They wrote columns dismissing their critics (like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard) as “Assad apologists.” Some of them were so outraged by Trump’s refusal to go back on the plantation and follow orders that they became “NeverTrump” agitators. A Hillary regime, at least, would go on with the key elements of their foreign and immigration policy. Boiled down, that amounts to “Invade the world, invite the world.”
How exactly were such “conservatives” better than the Obama hacks who urged the NATO bombing of Libya? Remember that brilliant humanitarian intervention, sold to the public by mass disinformation? It gave us limitless chaos in that poor country, with ISIS controlling large swathes, slave markets where Arabs sell black Africans again, and oh yes — it gave us the slaughter in Benghazi.
Of course, the truth turned out quite differently from the fantasies of globalists in either party. President Trump rejected their advice. He saw through the mirage of a new “democratic” Syria. Instead of confronting Russia he cooperated with it. Instead of backing hapless “moderate” rebels whose guns and credibility ended up boosting al Qaeda and its allies, Trump aided the Kurds. Their militias, including the Christian Syriac Military Council, captured Raqqa, the ISIS capital.
As The Stream was first to report in America, the Federation of Northern Syria offers a localist model of religious tolerance and women’s rights which ought to inspire the region. It’s blocking Iran’s efforts to use Syria as a terrorist road for strikes against Israel. The Assad regime is still nasty, but not much worse than the Turkish or Saudi regimes that schemed to replace it with intolerant Sunni jihadists.
Still, as things have turned out, we should be thankful that the churches of Damascus will be humming and bright this Christmas. It could have been otherwise.