Don’t Intervene in Syria

Andrew C. McCarthy is a Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute.


This article first appeared in NRO.  Andy McCarthy is the director of the Philadelphia branch of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Those clamoring for American intervention in Syria — I should say, even more American intervention in Syria — have a lock on two influential drivers of conservative opinion, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages. They are also bedfellows on this issue with our Muslim Brotherhood–enthralled president, even if Mr. Obama’s skittishness about going all in has them a bit testy.

All of this puts the media wind at their backs. Repeated often enough and reported uncritically enough, the interventionists’ shallow story has thus become the narrative. And so we have: The Vacuum.

The Vacuum theme goes like this: The Middle East may be in flux, but our threat environment remains frozen in time — a Nineties warp in which Iran, singularly, is the root of all evil. In Syria now, we have a golden opportunity to hand the mullahs a crushing defeat. All we need to do is commit to toppling their client, Bashar al-Assad. Media spin thus suggests that Assad’s minority Alawite regime is responsible for each of the 70,000 killings and half a million displacements that Syrians have endured since the civil war began — as if the Sunni majority, led by the local Brotherhood affiliate with al-Qaeda as the point of its spear, were not carrying out reciprocal mass murders and an anti-Christian pogrom.

Alas, misadventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have left the Obama administration gun-shy about leaping with both feet into another Muslim mess. The president thus prefers to “lead from behind” the Sunni supremacist governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. This failure of American will has created The Vacuum: a leadership lacuna in the anti-Assad opposition. Into this purported breach, Islamic supremacists — seemingly out of thin air — have rushed in to hijack the forward march of freedom.

As a result, the narrative continues, untold legions of Muslim moderates, secular democrats, and religious minorities who would otherwise be charting Syria’s democratic destiny are being elbowed aside. Even worse, by failing to intervene forcefully — meaning, to fuel the jihad with high-tech combat weapons and an aerial campaign to soften up Assad’s remaining defenses — the administration is frittering away the opportunity to strike up pragmatic alliances with the Vaccum-filling Islamists. Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought — eager to help the Brotherhood, but too concerned about arms falling into terrorist hands — Obama is forfeiting our chance to influence the outcome.

Right. I mean, look at how ably our decade of heavy investment has steered Iraq and Afghanistan in a pro-American direction. And behold how they love us in Benghazi!

Syria hawks counter such scoffs by putting on their best Paul Krugman: The “freedom” stimulus was not a harebrained idea, it just wasn’t big enough. Put aside the fortune expended and the thousands of American lives sacrificed. It is not the nature of the Middle East but a void of American leadership that has the region waving al-Qaeda’s black flags. The Vacuum turns out to be the best all-purpose rationalization of failure since Barack Obama discovered George W. Bush.

Baghdad, you are to understand, would look like Bayonne right now if only American troops hadn’t skipped town, creating The Vacuum that ceded the place to, er . . . Iraqis.

The Vacuum explains the Benghazi debacle, too. Some amnesia is required: You are not supposed to remember that Eastern Libya has for decades been a hotbed of rabidly anti-American jihadists. History goes back only as far as 2011, when Obama and the interventionists decided Qaddafi — their erstwhile ally — had to go. Presto, Benghazi’s Islamic-supremacist battalions were suddenly our guys, the heroic, freedom-fighting “rebels” — and let’s not dwell on the droves of them that had raced to Iraq for the terror war against our troops.

So how come we didn’t have all that profound influence over the outcome after helping the rebels kill and mutilate Qaddafi? How come our diplomatic posts were attacked? How come our ambassador and three other Americans were murdered? Why, The Vacuum, of course. It’s not that the clock struck twelve and the rebels turned back into jihadists. It’s that by “leading from behind,” Obama left a leadership void that enabled violent jihadists — apparently beamed down from the Starship Enterprise — to grab control before Libya’s rising tide of democracy devotees had a chance to roll in.

Hate to break this to you, but there is no vacuum. The Vacuum is a spring-fever hallucination, another empty grasp at the illusion of Islamic democracy.

Syria, like Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and most of the Middle East, is predominantly Islamist. There need be no leadership vacuums to invite the Islamists in. They are there by the millions. Their supremacist ideology dominates the region.

But that’s not how the interventionists see it. On her way out the door in January, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton clung to the fiction that passes for bipartisan Beltway wisdom. She told a Senate panel that we must distinguish between jihadists and “non-jihadists.” The latter are our hope. Therefore, she maintained, we must be “effective in partnering with the non-jihadists,” even if they fly al-Qaeda’s “black flag.”

Clinton’s words were chosen carefully. The term “non-jihadist” connotes nonviolence. She was trying to distance the administration’s Muslim Brotherhood friends from the terrorists — consistent with the lunatic Beltway consensus that the Brotherhood, whose Palestinian branch is the Hamas terrorist organization, is a nonviolent organization. All right, let’s indulge that whopper — let’s, as Mrs. Clinton likes to say, suspend disbelief. Accepting the Brothers and their followers as “non-jihadists” tells us only what they are not — namely, terrorists. Mrs. Clinton avoided telling us what they are — namely, Islamists.

Islamists are Muslim supremacists who want to impose sharia. The Associated Press has a point in instructing that “Islamist” is not — or, at least, is not necessarily — a synonym for “Islamic fighters” or “militants.” The AP is all wet, though, when it further posits that Islamists are neither “extremists” nor “radicals.” If the vapid term “moderate” means anything, then “extreme” and “radical” precisely describe Islamists. They seek to impose sharia, a totalitarian, liberty-averse social system. They want Israel annihilated (even if they’d have someone else do the honors). They are implacably hostile to the United States — at least while Americans remain champions of freedom and equality. There is nothing moderate about any of this.

Even if you believe these Islamists really are “non-jihadists,” the stubborn fact remains that they wave al-Qaeda’s flag because they want the same thing al-Qaeda wants. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that they prefer to establish a sharia state through political processes rather than violent jihad (in reality, it is political processes leveraged by violent jihad). Islamists still want the opposite of what we want. If we are truly promoting liberty, we can never “partner” with them.

No one is saying there is a total dearth, in Syria and the wider region, of secular democrats, non-Muslims, and Muslim moderates averse to sharia fascism. The point is that these factions are vastly outnumbered. They are, moreover, very far from uniformly pro-American. The radical Left is well represented among them. And even those who long for Western liberty regard us with increasing contempt thanks to the administration’s infatuation with the Brotherhood. So if ousting Assad is your priority, you are stuck with Islamists and jihadists. Unless you’re in favor of a very long-term American occupation of Syria, no one else could get the job done — and, in fact, many secularists and religious minorities prefer Assad, the devil they know, to the prospect of Egypt 2.0.

It is no longer 1996 — the year Iran bombed the Khobar Towers and killed 19 American airmen. The Syria hawks are quite right to argue that Iran remains a major threat to American interests. They are wrong, however, to treat Iran as the only such threat. The Sunni supremacist crescent that the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and their allies would run from Anatolia through the Persian Gulf and across North Africa would be no less hostile to the West than the Shiite competitor Iran is trying to forge. If Assad falls and the Brothers take over, that defeat for Tehran will not be a boon for the United States.

It is not isolationism to insist that American interventions be limited to situations in which a vital American interest must be vindicated. There is no such interest in Syria.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.  

  • Carlos Lober

    Has Andrew McCarthy ever been in Syria ? Exactly what does he actually know about for himself ?

    I have been to Aleppo and the abandonment of this good people wanting freedom is despicable .. I would sooner trust the judgement of John McCain and Joe Lieberman thank you who have much better experience in first hand knowledge of Syria and military and aid options .. but then Mr. McCarthy is a journalist and has to write about something whether he knows anything or not ..

    • alpha_1

      Carlos, if all these 'good' people want out, then they should leave. For the West to 'intervene' would be another Afghanistan, Iraq fiasco. Gawd, but we need to learn from our mistakes. Too many good lives have been lost in these lost causes already. Let's fix up our own problems first.

    • Drakken

      Your problem is that you think that these muslims in Aleppo are good, when it is clear that muslims of whatever stripe are clearly not, when these savages kill each other, and I believe the more they off each other the better it is for us westerners. If we were smart, and we are clearly not, we would be encouraging the Kurds to form their own region and let them be a real nice pain in the backside to Turkey,Iraq, and Iran. Freedom to a muslim is implementation of sharia and the slaughter of christians and other minorities. So bloody spare us the tears.

    • EarlyBird

      If we based every intervention on not wanting to abandon good people, we'd continually be in about 30 foreign entanglements. We can't do that. We can't continue acting as the world's policeman. We need to make serious assessments of what our national interests are and act on those, not on what our national wants are.

      And the last thing we ever should trust is the judgement of John McCain or Joe Lieberman.

    • Grocer

      Carlos,

      I want Assad gone. I would like to see very much destitute if not dead. Assad encouraged Al Qaeda using Syria as a transit point into Iraq. It led to the killing of many U.S. soldiers. He or his father is also responsible keeping Lebanon in turmoil, preventing the solution of the Palestinian problem and generally encouraging terrorism against the U.S. If Assad fell Iran would be in a tough spot.

      But for all that replacing Assad with the Muslims Brotherhood or Al Qaeda is a nonstarter.

    • gee59

      So when are you going to shut your mouth, put on a uniform and pick up a gun? Are you ready to put your life on the line for them? If not why not?

      I just love leftists with big mouths and no guts. You think that they are worth fighting for then you better be the first person in line.

    • JacksonPearson

      Carlos. The United States government is not a world cop, nor should our military be used to overthrow governments for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as occurred in Egypt, and al Qaeda in Libya. All Arab governed countries are dictatorships, and most, if not all of the people are enslaved by Islam.

      Moreover, the Arab Spring is being pushed by the Muslim Brotherhood to reestablish a Middle East Caliphate to further entrench Islam and sharia law in those countries that have been affected by the rebellious fighting.

    • Ghostwriter

      I'm no fan of Syria's Assad. But,most of us don't know who'll step in once he's gone. We should be very careful in doing this.

  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    It is absolutely the case, there is NO good outcome in Syria, and this is for various reasons, least of which is the implantation of the Brotherhood Mafia in Assad's stead. In fact, Al Qaeda, a Brotherhood offshoot, is the main benefactor – http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/03/31/al-qaeda-bell

    It is total spin that the POTUS is keeping his hands off in Syria. This is nothing short of balderdash. He lit the Mid East fires, and Benghazigate was a mega burn to arm the Brotherhood in Egypt, Libya and Syria, as well as beyond. In any case, six of one, half a dozen of another – http://adinakutnicki.com/2012/11/25/the-coming-en

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

    • EarlyBird

      Wow. Obama is now responsible for having "lit the Mid East fires." He really IS omnipotent!

      • JacksonPearson

        Obama had no business whatsoever sticking his nose, including our military into the Libyan, Arab Spring. He broke the law by not making provisions with congress under the "War Powers Act." Entering Libya under the guise of NATO was an impeachable offense.

  • Farid Ghadry

    If the US had to confront an Iran-like regime in Syria or an Afghanistan-like al-Qaeda, I would select al-Qaeda anytime over Iran; anyone who analyzed their tactics, their confrontational strategies, and their Modus Operandi will come to the same conclusion. Besides the fact that under int’l law, drones may not strike an Iran-like regime in Syria but al-Qaeda is stateless and is not afforded the same protection.
    As far as the MB is concerned, it is failing in Egypt and it will fail in Syria. Because Obama supports them, we cannot defeat them politically, so we must defeat them the way we defeated Assad.
    Intervention means al-Qaeda over Iran. It also means stop the killing and the destruction.
    Non-intervention means, “Let’s defeat Iran first and then maybe we can turn Assad around after he destroyed Syria completely and split it apart”.

    • Drakken

      I say encourage the savage muslims of whatever stripe to kill each other, the more the merrier. No intervention required.

  • Marty

    The current syrian conflict could not have been planned better. Each side is receiving weapons from its sponsor. The war could endure for years. What is wrong with that scenario? syria is a fictitious country anyway and a failed state. Continued fighting will result in its disintegration into warring statelets that will be too busy slaughtering one another to both anyone else. Let iran and saudi arabia fight their proxy wars until both are exhausted and financially drained.

    • EarlyBird

      Yes, the regional neighbors have far more to lose with a disintegrating Syria than the US does. If we refuse to do the heavy lifting, we may find that the Saudis, et al. finally decide to get their hands dirty and take care of their own back yard.

      • Drakken

        The Saudis never get their hands dirty, they only hand over bakeesh to have other people do their dirty work for them.

        • EarlyBird

          And it's the US who has been doing that dirty work for them. Look at the Gulf War. Who had more to lose if Saddam had blasted through Kuwait into Saudi Arabia, the US or the Saudis? But who fought that war?

          See, General, why take out the trash if you have another guy to do it for you, for free?

          There used to be a standard throughout history of natural regional hegemons which controlled their general sphere of influence. That was before we decided that everywhere was in our sphere of influence. If the Saudis, Iraqis, Turks, etc. are worried about the mayhem of Syria spilling into their neighborhoods, we should just say, "That's a shame."

          Forcing them to finally start doing the work of their own self-interest should be a maturing event for them.

  • κατεργάζομαι

    FOX News is becoming a bit of a Trojan horse.

    A maxim in the United States Army is, "Don't tell a soldier to do something; tell him what you want done." President Roosevelt didn't tell General Eisenhower to cross the English Channel; he told him to obtain the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. A counterexample can be found in the way that the United States has squandered American influence because the Obama Administration failed to determine what it wanted done in Syria. ~ Shoshana Bryen

    Or rather, Obama is achieving precisely what he and radical Islam wants in the Middle East, it was just accomplished with his limited geo-political understanding of how to get there.
    "The end justifies the Means" ~ Karl Marx.

    There is no shortage of voices yelling, "Do something!" And the talking heads at FOX who gave conservatives Mitt Romney in 2012 are less than sagacious and insightful, if not eager.

    • Drakken

      The thing is, a lot of those conservative commentators simpley don't understand islam and don't study history, they are no different than the goofy libs in that regard.

    • EarlyBird

      What can the US "do" or "get done" in Syria? It seems quite out of our hands.

      • Drakken

        Sit back and let the muslims slaughter each other to their little jihadists hearts content, get out the lawn chairs and favorite cocktail and watch the carnage they wreak. Do do allow it to come here.

        • EarlyBird

          "Sit back and let the muslims slaughter each other to their little jihadists hearts content, get out the lawn chairs and favorite cocktail and watch the carnage they wreak. Do do allow it to come here."

          Works for me.

    • Chiggles

      "The end justifies the Means"
      Karl Marx didn't say that. Macchiavelli did.

  • ywh

    From various articles of this author i have long time ago reconciled that no good use would come of his writings. So why read? I do so because he is a dangerous man so that he should be watched with caution. There is no doubt he is a phony. He constantly writes about he absolutely knows nothing about. He also is a bigot. He just drivels on muslims and Islam about which he knows jack sh.t. All his narrative is just a panoply of prejudices of a conceited bigot. A christian supremacist, an Islamophobe. He is a danger however as he influences christian supremacist such as Breivik who would act on their hate. I keep watching.

    • Jack

      Should we list Islamic Imans who preach hate and see if you denounce them?

      If you do not, then we know your true intentions. We read your posts because you preach hate. You must be watched.

    • Lan Astaslem

      islamaphobe + anyone who tells the truth about the murderous cult called islam

    • Indioviejo

      So why did you read the article? It is just an oportunity for your prejudices and bigotry to show itself against anyone who doesn't toe your line of thinking. Well, not here.

    • Mary Sue

      Are you someone who got their brain washed in Identity Politics in college gender/feminist/ethnic studies based upon marxist dialectic?

      Or are you one of those Muslims who only know the Koran by rote in Arabic but don't actually understand a word of Arabic?

  • Drakken

    ywh, Spoken like a true muslim/lib/progressive/marxist. You throw out the usual lib talking points of bigot, racist, islamophobe like so much mud hoping it sticks to shut down any type of debate on the insidious nature of islam. Well I got news for you and others of your ilk, those days for you controling the narative are over, and we won't go quietly into the night as you wish we would. Islam and the West are headed to a very bloody showdown, side with islam at your own peril, God(not allah) may have mercy on you, us infidels won't, because Queenbury rules for warfare are going to go right out the window, choose wisely.

  • pierce

    Just say StinkyPooh intervenes. With all his bluster, what does it accomplish. He openly criticized George W on Saddam, and Saddam is no longer with us, but it would be against everything that is sacred to eliminate Bashaar, for Stinky would be open to more criticism than he is worth, and right now he is not worth a plugged nickel.
    You all out there might not agree with me, but he is not worth a plugged nickel. I'll bet that there is any number of people that wish they had not voted for Stinky, now that they know he has screwed them. He ain't no saint!
    Never was, and never will be.

  • Smote

    Ronald Reagan wanted to blow Syria off the map, given their state-sponsorship of terrorism. And in cahoots with Iran. So, why intervene now? Let Syria burn! Karma is a bitch!

  • Bent

    There is no good outcome in Syria! At the end of the day, all of those people will still be Syrians. Normally I would just say that we needed to avoid them but unfortunately they have all of our oil. And we must get it back!