|Reuters photo of a young Syrian refugee on the Turkish-Syrian border|
Syria’s allies -- chiefly Iran and its Lebanese offshoot Hezbollah -- are still whipping up a global Muslim outcry against the U.S.-made amateur film insulting Islam.
The obscure movie that ridicules Prophet Muhammad (see No one’s innocent in the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’) has no Syria links. But the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and the resulting outbreak of anti-American protests in the Muslim world shored up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s political survival prospects.
Western media have since been parroting the Assad line that he is mostly facing al-Qaeda and Jihadists. The implication is they are staunchly anti-West in general and anti-American in particular.
K.P. Nayar, filing from Washington this week for Calcutta’s Telegraph, reports: “At a hurriedly arranged media teleconference by the U.S. State Department which wanted to put across its version of the events in Benghazi, the very first question was: ‘…I know Secretary (Hillary) Clinton said that this would not affect how the U.S. dealt with the Libyans, and that you would move forward. But certainly, it must make you start to think about any precipitous rush to support groups in any other countries such as Syria or the like because of the uncertainty of who is on the ground.’
“Three State Department officials participated in the teleconference, the ground rules for which prohibited reporters from identifying them. None of the three officials came forward to answer that question because the anti-U.S. backlash in Libya has added a new dimension to what will happen in Syria now.”
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is tipped to be the next secretary of state if Barack Obama is reelected in November, said the violence in Libya “will certainly give pause, or should give pause, to people who are pressing for a kind of involvement (in Syria)...”
All this is music to the ears of Russia.
In a recent Web article quoted by Russia Today, the chair of the Russian parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, Aleksey Pushkov, wrote that such a scenario would be almost certain to take place if Assad were ousted: “Instead of the secular rational state we had in Syria under Assad, where all ethnic and religious groups lived in peace and accord, we will get a second Iraq.”
The Russian politician went on to argue that Russia had repeatedly warned Western states, who are blinded by “the narrowness of their minds” and political calculations, and are incapable of heeding such warnings.
There are no guarantees that whoever replaced Assad would not immediately turn their guns against the United States, even though Washington is actively aiding rebel forces, Pushkov said. He cited the current situation in Libya as an example, claiming Libyans showed no gratitude for America’s role in the overthrow of the Muammar Gaddafi regime.
Alarabiya TV news channel supremo Abdel Rahman al-Rashed notes today that Russia is clapping with glee after the Benghazi attack let out of the bottle “the genie of al-Qaeda in Libya, jihadists in Sinai and Salafists in Tunisia.” But he hopes press reports of Obama consequently reappraising U.S. policy vis-à-vis the Syrian revolution are unfounded.
In his think piece for the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, Rashed writes, “It’s obviously difficult for me to explain briefly the importance of winning the great powers’ support for the Syrian people and their revolution – actually, for any revolution. Without great powers’ support, Syrian revolutionary organizations could be branded terrorist. They could be banned in Turkey and Jordan. It would be impossible for them to raise funds and arms in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In practice, they would end up like the armed Kurdish movements that have existed for decades, but remain outlawed and under siege.”
I concede, the Syrian revolution has no fewer problems than Libya’s. Future risks after regime change in Syria can’t be overlooked. But it would be ill-considered if Western states looked at Syria through the prism of their fears of radical fundamentalism.
Syria is not Egypt and Assad is not Hosni Mubarak. Failure of the Syrian revolution is more hazardous than its success because armed Islamist radicals would mushroom since they feed on government failures and chaos. Overpowered and demoralized insurgents would rally around them.
In a year of armed conflict, the opposition has broken the back of the regime and its institutions.
To re-establish his authority, Assad would have to come down harder on citizens, the neighboring countries and Western interests. Western states would ultimately have to revisit Syria and take him on. We had a precedent in Iraq, where allies broke the Saddam regime’s back in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait then left Saddam wounded but standing. The allies had to return in 2003 to finish him off. The outcome is the chaos we have today as we watch the Iraqi regime being eaten alive by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Furthermore, bringing down Assad’s regime is more important for Syria, the region and most of the world than toppling Saddam or Gaddafi.
The Syrian regime is Iran’s cat’s-paw in the Arab region. It has been sponsoring terrorist groups in regional and Western states for 40 years.
There is abounding evidence linking al-Qaeda to both the Syrian and Iranian regimes. The former was an accomplice in most terrorist attacks mounted in Iraq over the past eight years. And I suspect it might eventually emerge that Assad’s regime, or its allies, orchestrated the attack by al-Qaeda and the like on the American consulate in Benghazi – especially that the outrage was timed to coincide with 9/11 in order to intimidate the U.S.
Lastly, I don’t know of any cause paralleling Palestine’s over the past half-century other than Syria’s. The scope and intensity of sympathy in the Arab street for the Syrian people is immeasurable because of the untold crimes committed against them.
This is what turned most Arabs against Iran and Russia. Arabs are also angry that the West continues to sit on the fence.