Our View: Who do you cheer for in Syria?
It has been something of a gut instinct — a visceral reaction — for many to voice unequivocal support for Syria's rebels fighting to oust Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who, like his monstrous father, has no qualms about massacring his people. On the one side, you have the government — fighting against its population with tanks and jets. Some rebel groups have received nonlethal aid from the United States and its European allies. Other groups are armed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
It's hard to make the argument that there is a clear "good" guy in what has turned into a nearly 20-month civil war, partially because there are so many power-hungry factions that make up the Syrian "rebels." Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton indicated the United States is taking aggressive steps to reshape the country's opposition. The Obama administration is apparently looking to dismiss the current leadership and replace it with a group that represents the rebels fighting on the ground. The conflict may soon provoke more intervention, particularly behind the scenes.
"(Initially), the Obama administration thought that by having Arab allies fund the arming of the opposition and shipping these weapons to Syria's rebels, the regime will crumble without direct US involvement," Walid Phares, adviser to House of Representatives' Anti-Terrorism Caucus, told us.
There seems to be a notion that Washington can somehow control the outcome in Syria — to take the country on a path to democracy. Yet during the US war in Iraq we saw support — radical Islamic fighters — for al-Qaida pour in from Libya, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere in the region. In fact, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaidi in Iraq killed in a 2006 air raid, was from Jordan.
The same Sunni-driven al-Qaida ideology, along with Salafist influence, is present in rebel groups active from Libya to Syria. These organizations seek to take advantage of a power vacuum created by several of the Arab Spring uprisings the past two years.
The Shia theocratic regime in Iran, meanwhile, is supporting Syria's Assad government.
Ultimately, his brutality is not unique among dictatorships stretching from Asia to Africa, but the US has offered little to no interference where some of the most egregious human-rights violations have taken place. America hopefully has learned through conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq that there is a high price for intervention. Some sensible involvement, at least behind the scenes, may be necessary for our own interests. Yet it's folly to assume Syria's civil war will yield a democracy.