Before running off on his latest vacation, at the conclusion of his three-day, publicly-funded campaign swing, President Obama boldly called for Bashar al-Assad to step down — in the midst of what is the Iran-backed Syrian president’s brutal, months long repression of his opposition, a campaign in which thousands have been killed and are missing.
As John Bolton observes, calling on Assad to step down doesn’t tell us what Mr. Obama is prepared to do to make that happen. John suggests that the answer is nothing, and that this will expose the U.S. to the “charge of just being a rhetorical power” — in this instance, sounding off but “giving Assad and his Iranian cohorts license to continue the brutality[.]“
I wish that were all there was to it. At the Hudson Institute, Herb London takes note of various reports that the State Department is backing the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts (supported by the Islamist regime in Turkey) to replace Assad, just as the Brotherhood will soon be replacing Mubarak in Egypt.
This underscores, yet again, that the phenomenon we are seeing in the Middle East is not “the Arab Spring” but the Islamist Ascendancy. The unavoidable fact is that there is not a robust democratic movement in the region — not in the sense of Western democracy. Yes, there is a faction seeking secular democracy (“secular” in the sense that they want real pluralism, not sharia). The Brotherhood and other Islamists say they want “democracy,” and many Americans (particularly in media and government) are taken in by these claims. But the Brothers don’t want democratic culture — they want sharia. What they suddenly like about democracy is popular elections. Democracy, as they construe the term, is just a route to power, which would enable them to Islamize their societies.
While we should support authentic democrats in sensible ways, we must not overestimate their strength. The movement makes up less than a quarter of the public in the region. That’s why real democrats were so decisively trounced in the Egyptian referendum (78–22 percent), and why the Brotherhood is now poised to become the power center of Egyptian politics.
Still, it is one thing to be realistic about what our friends can accomplish. It is quite another thing to side with our enemies at the expense of our friends. That is what the Obama administration appears to be doing. Herb writes:
In an effort to understand and placate Syrian opposition groups, Secretary Clinton invited them to a meeting in Washington. Most of those invited, however, have links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Missing from the invitations are Kurdish leaders, Sunni liberals, Assyrians and Christian spokesmen. According to various reports the State Department made a deal with Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood representatives either to share power with Assad to stabilize the government, or replace him if this effort fails.
One organization, the Syrian Democracy Council (SDC), an opposition group composed of diverse ethnic and religious organizations, including Alawis, Aramaic Christians, Druze and Assyrians was conspicuously — and no coincidentally — omitted from the invitation list.
From the standpoint of Foggy Bottom it is far better to promote stability even if this means aligning oneself with the goals of presumptive enemies. This, however, is a dangerous game that not only holds U.S. interests hostage to the Muslim Brotherhood, but also suggests that the withdrawal of American forces from the region affords the U.S. very few policy options.
It would seem far more desirable to back the democratic influences — the political organizations that require cultivation and support — despite their relative weakness at this moment. It is these religious and secular groups that represent the real hope for the future and the counterweight to the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.
As I outline in The Grand Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood wants to destroy America, the West, and Israel. The current administration is helping the organization acquire power. Obama officials maintain that the Brotherhood is “moderate,” “largely secular,” and appear to believe it would become even more moderate and secular by being given the responsibilities of governance. (How’s that working out with Hamas, the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch?)
Secretary Clinton famously embarrassed herself by proclaiming Assad a “reformer.” If she now thinks the Brothers are the real reformers, she’s in for more embarrassment — and we are in for worse.