Asked about the Iran-Iraq war that stretched for eight ghastly years after breaking out in 1980, Henry Kissinger is said to have quipped, “It’s a pity they both can’t lose.”
The pity is that we have lost that exquisite wisdom concerning our national interest, despite a two-decade road to hell paved by good intentions — at least compassionate intentions — from Kosovo to Kandahar. If that isn’t clear enough from the latest killings of American soldiers stuck like sitting ducks between the Afghan Taliban and other Afghan Islamists, all doubt is removed by Elliott Abrams, the longtime Republican foreign-policy solon who served as a top National Security Council official during the heady days of the Bush “Freedom Agenda.” “Can there be a group anywhere in the world today more disappointed in United States foreign policy than those fighting the Syrian regime?” Abrams, a distinguished public servant whom I admire, asked this week in a post on the Corner.
Yeah: How about the American people?
Our entanglement in Afghanistan is now reduced to pleading with Taliban decapitators to come to the negotiating table while the Afghan forces our soldiers train and the Afghan civilians our soldiers protect kill our men and women — and while officials of the government we prop up echo their clerics’ exhortations to violent jihad until our infidel forces vacate the country.
And Iraq? Destroying the Saddam Hussein regime’s capacity to project power and facilitate terror took just a few weeks, but based on the second Bush inaugural’s mellifluous nonsense that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” we stuck around another eight years to try to turn the place into a functioning democracy and counterterrorism ally. After more than 4,000 lives were lost and $800 billion expended, we have left behind an Iran-dominated sharia state best known for its internecine Islamic barbarism, its persecution of religious minorities, and its Islamist prime minister, who clings to power despite having lost the last election.
In Gaza and Lebanon, we called for “the success of liberty” through “democratic” elections — democratic in the sense that the third grade holds a referendum to elect a class president, nothing resembling a culture of Western democracy. What we got for our trouble was the installation of Hamas and Hezbollah into positions of governmental power — unreconstructed jihadists now swaddled in the cloak of democratic legitimacy. In Kosovo, we raced to recognize an Islamic government, eviscerating the Westphalian order’s bedrock principle that the borders of a nation — even Serbia — must be respected, while validating ethnic cleansing and the destructive notion that Islamic solidarity takes precedence over national sovereignty. In Libya, we threw overboard a regime that, for all its notorious faults, was lauded by our government as a key ally in the fight against jihadist terror and nuclear proliferation, abetting its replacement by a sharia regime in which anti-American terrorists hold key positions. And in Egypt, we pulled the rug from beneath the pro-American Hosni Mubarak’s feet and ended up with the Muslim Brotherhood — extremists being pulled in a more extreme direction by the electoral success of still more doctrinaire Islamic supremacists. Meanwhile, Coptic Christians flee a country that is no longer even marginally safe for non-Muslims.
Haven’t we done quite enough?
Apparently not, according to Mr. Abrams. He is exercised because the Obama administration, after bungling Egypt and Libya, is not of a mind to leap with both feet into Syria, the sharia ascendancy’s next stop. To be sure, Bashar al-Assad is a savage dictator in the mold of his late father, and the regime has slaughtered thousands of Syrians as it clings to power. This, in the Freedom Agenda mind, triggers an American obligation to intervene, bereft of any companion American national-security obligation to concern ourselves with what might follow after Assad falls.
Abrams thus accuses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of “smearing” the Syrian “opposition.” (After the Libya misadventure, “rebels” is so de trop that “opposition” is apparently the euphemism in vogue for the 2012 Arab Spring.) Smearing them how? Madame Secretary had the temerity to point out that Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman Zawahiri, has thrown al-Qaeda’s support (which is to say, its mass-murder proficiency) behind the opposition, as have those proud democrats at Hamas — who have just vacated their longtime Syrian redoubt for the comfier climes of Egypt and Qatar. (Hamas, being the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, gravitates naturally to the safe havens of a fledgling Muslim Brotherhood government and the playpen of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, its sharia maestro.)
Certainly one could accuse Mrs. Clinton of being disingenuous. After all, what she is saying about Syria was true of Libya — where the Obama administration nevertheless intervened even though the ink was not yet dry on the State Department’s request that Congress increase funding for the Qaddafi regime. But she could only rightly be condemned of a smear if you buy Abrams’s delusion.
Concededly, that has heretofore been the Obama delusion, too, just as it was the regnant bipartisan delusion of administrations stretching back 20 years ago, back when Mrs. Clinton was still baking cookies and fixing healthcare. It is the lunatic idea that the Muslim ummah consists of about two dozen terrorists engaged in “anti-Islamic” violence, regrettably strewn among 1.5 billion moderates yearning for freedom through a peaceful political process.
The reality is more like what we’re seeing in Egypt, where four out of five citizens want some measure of repressive sharia law. Or the Palestinian territories, where a decisive majority denies Israel’s right to exist — as do Muslims throughout the region, including in made-in-America Iraq. Or Afghanistan, where being a Muslim apostate is a capital offense under the constitution midwifed by the State Department, and where the accidental burning of the Koran is deemed just cause for a murder spree — and for calls by Qaradawi’s International Union of Muslim Scholars for the American soldiers, not the Afghan murderers, to be punished.
One need not carry a brief for Assad to take notice that it is not just al-Qaeda and Hamas backing the “opposition.” The hugely influential Qaradawi backs them, too. That is because the backbone of the opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood. Yes, Syria is a more diverse country than Libya. The regime is composed of an Alawite Muslim minority — regarded as heretical by Qaradawi — and it is backed by Shiite Iran. Its opposition includes an ethnic, religious, and ideological potpourri of Druze Muslims, Kurds, Armenians, Christians, Marxists, a few liberal democrats, some disgruntled former regime officials, and even a smattering of Jews. But all that said, three-quarters of the country’s 23 million people are Sunni Muslims — the Brotherhood’s breeding grounds.
As the Wall Street Journal outlined in a lengthy 2007 report, the Brotherhood’s influence is so pervasive that Bush administration heavyweights like Elliott Abrams had to swallow hard and deal with them if they wanted to cultivate Assad’s opposition. They rationalized that this was worth doing by coupling their dreamy sharia-democracy promotion with the cold calculation that toppling Assad would be a severe blow to Iran’s ambitions.
While more admirably focused on American national interests, the second theory was, and is, wrong. Replacing Assad’s regime with the Brotherhood is not necessarily an improvement as far as American interests are concerned — they are both deeply anti-American and the Brotherhood is even more vested in Israel’s destruction. But that aside, the premise is wayward. When America’s enemies face off against each other, it is not in our interest to choose one over the other. As they battle, they weaken each other — and that has already had the salutary effect of weakening Iran, which now sees not only Assad teetering but its tenuous ties with Hamas fraying.
Of course it is tragic that some innocent victims and authentic liberal democrats are caught in the carnage. It is not our burden, however, to prevent that or to become enmeshed in other countries’ civil wars – not when there is no vital American interest in one side’s prevailing over the other. It is certainly not in the vital interests of a country weary of war, out of patience with Muslim madness, and $15 trillion in debt to further insinuate itself so that anti-American dictators can be replaced by anti-American Islamists.
It’s a pity that they can’t both lose. But if they have to savage someone, better each other than us.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.