The Corner

Re: It’s a Pity Somebody Has To Win

Andy McCarthy’s lengthy discussion of Syria on the homepage today contains too little about Syria, and too much about his overall views of American foreign policy in the last 10 or 15 years. Which is unfortunate, because he leaves out some critical points.

First, to set the record straight, neither I nor anyone else in the Bush White House ever met with anyone from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The Wall Street Journal story to which he links is suggestive, interesting, and wrong. In the (unfortunately too) brief period in the previous decade when there was any consideration of trying to overthrow the Assad regime, the reason for it was simple: He was doing his very best to help kill American soldiers in Iraq, working closely with every jihadi group that would enlist toward that goal. It is ironic that Andy, and indeed Bashar himself, now warn us of al-Qaeda and its ilk being present in Syria, when in fact they were all invited in by Assad to land at Damascus International Airport and thence be escorted to Iraq to kill our troops.

Second, Andy poses as the hard-headed guy here and casts me and many of my colleagues in the Bush years as soft, mushy, sentimental, misguided NGO-types pushing democracy in all the wrong places. Wrong. We took a hard-headed view of Syria: Assad was enthusiastically and systematically helping kill Americans, and that made him our enemy. Today, the major national-security issue in the region is Iran — barely mentioned by Andy. Assad is Iran’s only Arab ally and Syria is its means of projecting force to the Mediterranean and the border of Israel via Hezbollah. The downfall of Assad — even if he were replaced by a Brotherhood-linked government — would weaken Iran and Hezbollah badly. 

Third, Andy seems to assume any government that replaces Assad will be a viciously anti-American Sunni extremist one. If he is right, that regime will certainly be anti-Iran as well. But is he right? Note that when Mubarak left Egypt every single Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader was present there, some were already in parliament, and the Brotherhood had a pervasive national network. Syrian Brotherhood leaders are dead or in exile, and we simply do not know how powerful the organization will turn out to be. It may be, for example, that the “neighborhood committees” now battling the regime will present a new force in Syria once Assad is gone. It may be that the Brotherhood will take over — for a while anyway. But Andy’s absolute certainty that those Syrians fighting Assad — pretty courageously, by the way, for a year now — are enemies of the United States has two flaws. First, it has little factual basis in the statements and actions of those fighting Assad. Second, we can say one thing about them for sure: Unlike Bashar Assad, they are not allies of Iran and Hezbollah and they have not dedicated years to murdering people (mostly Christians) they don’t like in Lebanon and trying to kill as many Americans as possible. That matters.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national-security adviser.


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