Stay Out of Syria
A response to Clifford D. May.

At a checkpoint outside Idlib, Syria, June 10, 2012


Andrew C. McCarthy

Like all long-suffering fans of the New York Mets, I am on Cloud Nine courtesy of Johan Santana, whose recent no-hitter — in the team’s 8,020th game, during its 51st season — was the first in Mets history. My enthusiasm did not ebb, not by a fraction of a quark, when Hugo Chávez briefly interrupted his Bolivar-Marxist thuggery to join the chorus celebrating Santana, a very different kind of Venezuelan lefty.

That’s because what Chávez and I share is just a rooting interest. It does not make us what my friend Clifford D. May might call “strange bedfellows.” Cliff’s recent NRO column, “The Battle of Syria,” not only misses this distinction; it miscasts advocacy for American non-intervention in Syria as de facto alliance with that country’s brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and, by extension, with Assad’s equally barbaric backers in Iran.

When I argued, in the column to which Cliff is responding, that Mitt Romney and the Republican party’s transnational-progressive wing had aligned themselves with al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood against Assad, I was not saying that, as between competing evils, these GOP heavyweights had a mere rooting interest in seeing Sunni supremacists prevail over Shiite supremacists. I was pointing out that they were bent on empowering one set of America’s enemies against another. This is no passive preference. The Butch & Sundance team of John McCain and Lindsey Graham are not just cheering on their team, the way Chávez and I were pulling for Johan; the senators want to arm the predominantly Islamist, demonstrably murderous Syrian “opposition” — to strengthen America’s enemies with training and weaponry that America would either coordinate or provide directly.

Yet, in a “two can play that game” retort, Cliff asserts that he and other pro-interventionists could just as colorably say that my argument aligns me with, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and Iran’s “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is a wayward analogy, for several reasons.

Let’s consider, again, the objective of the non-interventionists. Cliff misstates it as “opposing efforts to facilitate regime change in Syria.” The non-interventionist is not opposed to Syrian regime change. He is indifferent to it. And that is not because those of us who resist unnecessary U.S. entanglements in Islamist hotbeds are “isolationists,” as the Wilsonian parody posits.

To be sure, we are skeptical of the presumption, championed by progressives, that because the United States is the most important country in the world, every conflict on earth is our business — which is to say, our burden, and in the eyes of many progressives, our fault. But mainly we believe American interventions ought to be driven by vital American interests. Many times, those vital interests are best served by butting out. That is particularly the case in the Muslim Middle East, where hatred of America has a unifying effect on our otherwise fractious enemies.

In Syria, this plays out two ways. First, there is no realistic prospect of regime change favorable to the United States; intervention thus necessarily portends making one set of America’s enemies stronger than they currently are. Second, it is in America’s interest that al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood (including Hamas), the Assad regime, the Iranian mullahs, and Hezbollah all become weaker; non-intervention while they beat each other’s brains in is therefore to our great advantage.