Syrian Tinderbox

Article by Justin Raimondo.
Syria, like Libya, is a make-believe “country,” that is, it is a “nation” created entirely out of whole cloth by the colonial powers, the borders of which correspond to no ethnic, religious, or cultural contiguity. Ethnically, it is a hodgepodge of Arab, Circassian, Assyrian, and Kurds, with various other obscure sub-groupings thrown in the mix: in sectarian terms, think Lebanon – various Muslim sects predominating beneath a thin overlay of Orthodox Christians and Druze. The key intermediary between these often contentious religious rivals has so far been the Alawite sect, a heterodox branch of Islam, the base from which the top leadership of the Ba’athist party derives its power. If and when this mediating role becomes nonfunctional, on account of the overthrow of the Ba’athists, then the future of the country can be seen in the fate of Lebanon – an armed camp perpetually on the brink of open conflict.

Combine this scenario with the danger posed by President Obama’s framing of events in terms of US-Iranian rivalry, and you have what amounts to a dress rehearsal for another world war. “Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies,” the president said – the equivalent of throwing a lit match in the tinderbox of the Middle East.

If Syria becomes a battlefield, the various contenders for regional power will each field their armies and conduct a war-by-proxy, a conflict that will be but a prelude to the main event. The Lebanonization of Syria would be a disaster for the Syrians, and this is why the regime retains such support as it does: however, if they can’t keep order – the basis of their mandate – then they lose what little legitimacy they have left. Bashar realizes this, which is why he’s cracking down. The news that much of the opposition received funding and other forms of support from the US government hasn’t helped, either, and for the moment it looks like the anti-Assad forces are losing steam.

Yet, as we saw in Egypt, these movements have a natural resiliency, and it is far too early to say which way the battle will go. In this instance, too, the role of the United States, as usual, has nothing to do with the real interests of the Syrians, and everything to do with its great power ambitions in the region. Obama looks at Syria, and thinks of Iran: Syrians look at their country, and think of Lebanon.

There are so many Syrian exile groups, some operating within the country, some not, that it would be impossible to cover them all in a single column. If I were taking bets on the one I expect the US is quietly backing, however, I would put my money on Abdul Halim Khaddam, another former top crony of Hafez al Assad, who served as the vice-president after Rifat’s expulsion, and then as “interim president” in the interregnum between the death of the elder Assad and the official inauguration of Bashar. He was personally responsible for the deaths of many dissidents, and yet today he poses as the leader of the “democratic” opposition, with offices in Washington D.C. and major Western capitals, presiding over his “National Salvation Front,” which, perhaps coincidentally, has the same name as the Libyan rebel exile group essentially founded by the CIA.

In any case, the Syrian revolution shows every sign of following the Arab Spring with a long hot summer, one in which the accumulated tensions in the regions could boil over and drag us into yet another war. Now more than ever, it is imperative the US stays out of Syria’s internal affairs – and, naturally, now more than ever one can be absolutely certain that is not the case. The Obama administration has decided to go on the offensive in response to the fall of US-supported despots in North Africa, and policymakers are apparently convinced they can make some pretty tasty lemonade out of the lemon they’ve been handed. The problem is that they’ll let this unstable mixture of sour lemons and sweet rhetoric stand too long and ferment – in which case our policymakers will soon enough be drunk on some pretty heady liquor.

The consequences of US intervention in Syria could drive us to the brink of war – which is no doubt why we haven’t heard (at least in any great decibels) the call to send “aid” and even intervene on behalf of the protesters. However, that is coming, soon enough, and at that point it’s time to pull the emergency switch and set the alarm bells to ringing.

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