The debate on Syria continues to focus like a laser on exactly the wrong issue — whether Assad used chemical weapons. To be sure, as Alan Reynolds argued here yesterday, the Obama administration’s case that he did is underwhelming. More disturbing, Yossef Bodansky lays out evidence that the Assad regime’s alleged sarin attack on August 21 was a deception engineered by the mujahideen rebels who, a week earlier, were already antcipating what he describes as “an imminent escalation in the fighting due to ‘a war-changing development’ which would, in turn, lead to a US-led bombing of Syria.” All that aside, however, the main problem remains what it has always been: Assad’s enemies are enemies of the United States, and helping them does not advance American national security.
I put it this way here at the Corner when we first started discussing the possibility of WMD attacks by the regime last April:
Let’s assume Assad did it. This would not change the underlying problem: Assad’s opposition is rife with assorted Islamic supremacists and jihadists. These include elements of al-Qaeda, the organization with which we are at war, and whose ardent pursuit of chemical and biological weapons has not only been noted but formally alleged in indictments for years. I am not saying we have no friends in the opposition. But, as in Egypt, they are a weak part of an opposition led by Muslim supremacists who hate the West. That is not going to change, no matter what weapons Assad uses.
[The counter-argument] repeats the standard interventionist narrative: Obama failed to act in support of the pro-American (or, at least, anti-Islamic-supremacist) faction(s) of the opposition, creating a void that allowed “well-funded jihadist and Islamic forces [to] take the lead on the battlefield.” I wrote about this narrative in a recent column. There is no evidence in Syria, any more than there was in Egypt or Libya, that there was, at any point, a thriving, pro-American faction that was capable of taking the lead against the dictatorial regime. The most virulent opposition to the Assad regime has, for decades, been the Islamic supremacists — the Muslim Brotherhood and its allied violent jihadists. There is no void. This is the dynamic in the Muslim Middle East: You rationalize U.S. aid and sacrifice by telling yourself you are only helping the good guys, and then, once the regime is toppled, it turns out there aren’t enough good guys — so you end up with the Muslim Brotherhood. If Assad is replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, that is not progress for America.
Nothing has changed in the ensuing five months.