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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria, finally

It seems that the good guys have finally decided to act against Syria despite protests from the likes of Russia. As I argued earlier, non-action in the face of the likes of Bashar Assad would only make it easier for dictators to crush internal revolts in the future. The chemical attack on a residential neighborhood near Damascus was a direct result of earlier do-nothing behavior. The regime had already tried out chemical weapons several months ago on a smaller scale (and fired SCUD missiles into residential areas) just to see what the West would do. The West did nothing but slightly increased its rhetoric, so the regime decided to move it up a notch. (This should also remind us of the importance of American hegemony: without it Assad would have gone completely cavemen on his own people a long time ago with Russia nodding in approval.) The regime's timing could not have been more arrogant and bold: the attacks were carried out while UN inspectors were not many miles away. To anyone living in the West Assad's behavior may seem irrational, considering the international environment and Obama's threats about crossing the "red line", but it's a fact that Middle Eastern dictators have had problems in the past understanding the civil, diplomatic threats that Western leaders issue. Even Saddam Hussein believed, to the very last second, both in 1991 and 2003, that the United States would not invade.

For the West, there should be no turning back now. If the regime is left unpunished, Assad will become even more ruthless. The reverberations of Western inaction would be felt elsewhere too: America's enemies are surely paying attention. Obama may be extremely reluctant to act but even he should understand that it never had to come to this: had he been more decisive before, all this could have been avoided. But Obama, with his doctrine of realpolitik, was caught completely off guard by the Arab revolts that beautifully demonstrated the power of ideas, ideas that Obama's predecessor believed were not as alien to the ordinary Arab as was commonly and fashionably thought. America can now demonstrate that it stands behind those ideas by putting its money where its mouth is instead of being obsessed with maintaining the status quo, i.e., the one where ruthless dictators are kept in power for the sake of stability, breeding resentment toward America among the common folks.

To be sure, there are no easy solutions to the situation in Syria or the Greater Middle East in general. Arming moderate forces (probably easier said than done) within the opposition should alleviate the problem America faces with respect to Islamic rebels. Keeping boots off the ground seems like a no-brainer. As in Libya, air strikes and cruise missiles may be an effective and cheap solution (it should be noted that the West may wish for a regime change but doesn't seem eager to set that as an objective), contributing virtually nothing to America's long-term budget problems (which result from entitlement spending) while providing the kind of assets against the regime the rebels never could have dreamed of. In the long run, it can only be hoped that the ongoing revolutions mark the beginning of the end of autocracy in the Middle East, just as the 1848 revolutions did in Europe.

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