Don’t Intervene in Syria
There is no leadership vacuum.


Andrew C. McCarthy

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.