Trump Must Not Repeat Iraq War Fiasco, Leave al Qaeda in Control of Syria

Will we send another million Christians into tent cities and exile?

By John Zmirak Published on April 6, 2017

Remember that tragic picture of a drowned Syrian refugee? It broke hearts all around the world. Never mind the story behind it, which soon fell apart. (The family had been living safely in Turkey.) 

That photo overwhelmed rational argument. It ended debate. It helped sway Angela Merkel to admit a million Syrian refugees into Europe, via Germany. The continent is still reeling from the results: A rape epidemic in Sweden, “refugees” committing terror strikes in Paris, mass attacks on women in Germany … the list of appalling outcomes goes on and on. Turkey now threatens to send 2 or 3 million more “refugees” from the safety of camps in that country — if the E.U. won’t cave in to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s demands.

It All Happened Before in Iraq

Remember the warnings that Saddam Hussein was preparing nuclear weapons? How about the promise that “Iraqi democrats” like Ahmed Chalabi would set up a pro-American regime in that country and guarantee religious freedom?

Fast forward past the missing WMDs, and the absolute chaos that erupted in that country when we removed its secular strongman. What’s Iraq like now? It’s a firm ally of Iran, with large swathes of the country devastated (or still controlled) by ISIS. One million Christians whose families had lived there since the age of the Apostles are huddling in refugee camps. And the nation still can’t pump its oil.

We Handed Iran to Khomeni

Think back a little further in history, and recall the tragic reports from Iran in the 1970s. I grew up hearing horror stories about what happened to Islamists and Communists at the hands of the Shah’s secret police. (The Shah, while a dictator, protected the rights of women, Christians, and Jews, and was a firm American and Israeli ally.) Those stories are what moved Jimmy Carter to yank out U.S. support.

So we handed that vast country over to the most hidebound Shi’ite extremists. They promptly took U.S. hostages. The threat they posed to their neighbors goaded Iraq into a war of aggression. More than a million people died in the war that resulted. Christians are hunted there now. The Iranian government lowered the age of consent for girls to 9. There is no more freedom now than existed under the Shah. And the country is rolling steadily toward building nuclear weapons that can menace every U.S. ally from Israel to Italy.

We Don’t Know the Culprit, and it Doesn’t Matter

As The Stream has reported, it’s uncertain whether the government of Syria in fact used chemical weapons against al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels. Remember that in 2013, a U.N. official claimed that Syrian rebels were using captured chemical weapons against the government. Johannes de Jong, who is in close touch with Christian militias in Syria, told The Stream that  Turkish allies have used chemical weapons against the Kurds near Aleppo — a fact which most media refused to cover. ISIS has used chemical weapons too. It seems that every major faction except the Kurds and their Christian allies has crossed the “red line” and used chemical weapons. So with whom should we side?

If Assad chose this moment to start using chemical weapons again, it was a political blunder of historic proportions. The U.S. had just agreed to set aside his removal from power as a precondition for peace. The “moderate rebels” whom neoconservatives fantasized would transform Syria into a liberal democracy with U.S. aid have turned out to be rarer than hen’s teeth. The weapons the U.S. gave them mostly ended up with al Qaeda factions.

Syria Needs Partition, Not U.S. Occupation

The possible outcomes in Syria have narrowed, and a tolerant, pro-American regime is not an option. It never really was one. Much more likely, and probably desirable, is a decentralized, de facto partitioned Syria. Crush ISIS, and let the rest of the country devolve into reasonably homogenous regions, according to who controls what today (minus, of course, ISIS).

  • One for Alawites and Christians, composed of the portion now controlled by Assad. (A good deal would require Assad himself to resign and go into exile, and replace him with an Alawite whose hands are comparatively clean of civilian blood.)
  • One for Arab Sunnis, composed of what’s controlled now by Turkey and its allies linked to al Qaeda.
  • One for Kurds, Christians, and Arabs opposed to al Qaeda, composed of what’s now controlled by the tolerant, democratically governed Federation of Northern Syria. (Turkey will fight this outcome, however — it opposes any territory for the Kurds, whose cousins it fiercely represses at home.)

There is no realistic prospect, even with Russian help and Trump in office, for Assad to reconquer the country. Nor could he hold it. So why would he do the one thing that would guarantee his ouster from power? Which might force Trump to break his campaign promise to keep U.S. forces out of the Syrian quagmire?

What If Assad Dropped Chemical Bombs?

But let’s allow that it’s possible, even likely that Assad’s forces were the culprit. Assad is a ham-fisted dictator, fighting desperately to protect his own power base and his ethnic group: the Alawites, a minority religious group that is persecuted in virtually every other Muslim country. So are Christians, who likewise are safe in the regions of Syria he still rules.

If we use force to knock out Assad and his government, who will fill the vacuum? The “moderate rebels” beloved of Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham can’t do it. They can’t even hold on to the weapons the U.S. gives them. The Turks won’t permit the Kurds and Syriac Christians to expand into that region. We won’t give it to ISIS.

So the most likely beneficiary of a U.S. attack on the Syrian government will be the powerful coalition of al Qaeda-linked radical Islamists, who are backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. If they take over the region with millions of Alawites and Christians, what will these jihadists do to them? Christians on the ground in Syria report that they were “cleansed” by these militias, whom they fear as much as ISIS. Indeed, the worldviews of al Qaeda and ISIS are not fundamentally different. As a native New Yorker who was present for 9/11, I am somehow biased against this outcome.

Should the U.S. Give al Qaeda a Country?

Do we want to send U.S. troops to Syria, which would likely put al Qaeda in control of a major country? To cause the ethnic cleansing of another million Christians, as we made possible in Iraq? To remove the last safe country for Christians in the region, apart from Israel? And all to accomplish what?

To salve our consciences? Because we read an article about an atrocity? Atrocities abound in the region, from the Saudis’ war on civilians in Yemen to the chaos still reigning in Libya after our last humanitarian intervention. Boosters of war always say that “inaction is not an option.” But if every likely or feasible course of action carries the risk of costing more lives and causing more chaos, prudent restraint isn’t just feasible. It’s the only moral option.

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