Overthrow Or Kill Assad—Then What?

What frustrates me are people who don’t think things through.  Everyone who is pushing for direct US intervention in Syria against Bashar Hafez al-Assad is guilty of this.  I’ve been guilty as well as advocating a SEAL Team 6-like strike but logically I know it’s impossible. It would be ill-advised also for the reasons I will present.

John Kerry and Barack Obama are treating this like the US should be the stern father figure taking the belt to Assad’s backside for his black deeds so that he promises to “never do it again”.  Well, Assad already has two “fathers”: Russia and China. He does what he does because he has such lenient and supportive dads.

With this attempt to whip of support of the American people for an illegal strike (not sanctioned by the UN) against Syria, John Kerry has become the new Condoleezza Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Rice is the new John Bolton.  But what the people who don’t think things through are failing to think through: who would fill the political and leadership vacuum if Assad is either sent packing or sent down under? The track record for actual democratically-elected government leaders is none too good throughout the Arab and Islamic states; witness Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.  In every one of these countries where the leaders were “democratically” elected or put in place by the military, the rulers have been murderous, drug lords, “ex”-military generals, and hard right Muslim leaders.  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” indeed.  In every one of these countries the people are still protesting and many dissidents have been imprisoned and/or shot dead.  This same exact scenario will play out in Syria—you can count on it.

So, assuming that Assad is deposed or killed, who will fill that power vacuum? Among the volunteers will most certainly be Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey with the U.S., Russia, and China either duking it out behind the scenes or in the center ring.  Take a look at a map of the Middle East and take note of where Syria is situated and remember that nature abhors a vacuum.  The peremptory overthrow of the Assad regime by outside forces (whether or not the rebels participate in it) will destabilize the region for years, and destabilize is probably too mild a term.  As for Syria—do we need yet another country under its military control—which over and over has been shown in every country where they have installed themselves in power to be just as corrupt and brutal as the corrupt and brutal despots they displaced?

But if by some remote chance power isn’t seized by the military, who will fill the power vacuum? This isn’t a simple case of heroic rebels vs. the Assad regime.  Nope,  within this generic “rebels” designation there are factions upon factions fighting each other: Islamists vs. non-Islamists; Saudi-supported groups vs. anti-Saudis,  Syrian drug lords vs. each other, factions who are seeking outsider support vs. factions who want all outsiders out of the conflict. This is not only a civil war, it’s a turf war; the Jets vs. the Sharks on steroids. The gang we back may not be the gang who wins the war.  It’s Iraq all over again.

So, what are the alternatives? Russia will block any UN military actions voted on by the Security Council, so that’s no good.  So, the US became damn fine in advising or orchestrating regime changes in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Brazil, Indonesia,  Angola, Turkey, South Vietnam, etc. (for more info on most of these, read Naomi Klein’s classic “The Shock Doctrine”.) so why can’t we use the techniques we perfected to install the good guy into power for once? Train, arm, and fund them just as we did for the likes of Pinochet of Chile and Suharto of Indonesia and many, many other despots globally.

What the US war hawks still don’t get is that instead of just toppling a government, you’ve first have to win the hearts and minds of the people through humanitarian acts.  Don’t just arm rebels with weapons and battle tactics; supply them with food, clean drinking water, clothing, medical supplies, house building materials and heavy equipment.  We’ve got to make ourselves the good guys in the people’s eyes, not the invaders. But being men, this is considered much too expensive and would take way too long in the eyes of Kerry, Obama, McCain (if you can take his eyes away from his video poker games long enough) and the other chairbound warriors.

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