The Corner

Be Careful What You Wish For

Some of the specific suggestions in today’s NR editorial on Syria make sense — withdrawing our ambassador, for instance, or banning the sale of arms to the country. I heard on NPR (maybe on Diane Rehm last week) that we’d been secretly funding anti-government media there — great.

But I think it’s important to caution yet again that there are worse things than the Assad thugocracy in store for us. We’re seeing the same divide in opinion as on other Mideast conflicts, between those skeptical that Muslim democracy can produce liberal results and those who still cling to the idea that “the desire for freedom is written in every human heart.”

The Journal’s own editorial today inadvertently sheds light on that divide. In a piece that much more enthusiastically calls for the overthrow of the Assad regime, there’s this sentence: “A regime that builds its domestic legitimacy on hostility to Israel is also unlikely ever to make peace, even if it recovered the Golan.” That’s almost certainly true; but why is the regime — and others in the Middle East — even able to build domestic legitimacy on hostility to Israel? Because the people hate Israel and long for its extermination. An otherwise unpopular government wouldn’t be able to blunt or redirect dissatisfaction among the populace by harking to something that didn’t already resonate with them.

My freshman government professor, George Carey, used to say that our political theory is based on the assumption of a virtuous people — all the safeguards and roadblocks of the Constitution would be for naught if the people, after due deliberation and delay, still wanted to do the wrong thing. Well, I’m afraid that in the Islamic world democracy faces the problem of a vicious people, one where the desire for freedom is indeed written in every human heart, but the freedom to do evil.

Of course, the alternative scenario after the fall of the Assad regime is the breakup of the country into a version of Lebanon, with the (surviving) Alawites creating a micro-state in Latakia, the Kurds establishing autonomy in the northeastern panhandle, the (surviving) Christians forming militias to police fiefdoms around Aleppo, and the Sunni dictatorship controlling the rest of the country. Is that an improvement? I don’t think so, but maybe — but let’s at least be realistic about what the outcomes might be, rather than operate on the assumption that anything resembling liberal democracy is even possible there.


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