Sunday, November 06, 2005

Fearing an Iraq in a Post-Assad Syria - New York Times

Fearing an Iraq in a Post-Assad Syria

The collapse of the ruling order in Iraq has shown the cost of political chaos. And the possibility that Syria could be headed in a similar direction has raised the question: As bad as the Assad government is, could its failure lead to something even worse?

As of now, President Assad has been presented with a lose-lose proposition. He can try to hand over relatives like Mr. Shawkat to United Nations investigators. But if he cuts a deal with the West, Mr. Assad risks being viewed here and in the region as a puppet. If he refuses, Syria could be hit with economic sanctions. Either way his grip on power could be weakened.

"Either Bashar will have to make his coup, or someone will make it against him," said a Syrian political analyst with close ties to the leadership who said he had to speak anonymously for fear of retribution.

Such turmoil could lead to chaos, and if one thing has united Syrians, its neighbors and the West in recent days, it has been a fear that the country could collapse into Iraqi-style sectarian violence.

Syria is a majority Sunni Muslim country ruled by a minority Islamic sect of Alawites. It also has large populations of Christians and Kurds, and for decades its leadership has emphasized Arab nationalism over Syrian national identity. The worst-case chain of events has Sunnis finally rising up against Alawites, while the country fractures along ethnic, religious and ideological lines.

Many say they doubt this will happen. "There will be no civil war in Syria and there will not be group violence," said Hussein al-Odat, an opposition leader who advocates democratic reforms. "There could perhaps be individual acts but it is difficult, in fact, it is impossible, that there will be civil or group strife. Iraq is an entirely different case that cannot be compared to Syria because in Iraq there is an occupation that dismantled everything, including the state."

Others say they are less sanguine. "If there is something to be feared in terms of violence in Syria, its source will be the Alawite elements of the regime refusing to let go of their powers and money," said Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a Syrian writer.

Syria is not Iraq, he said, but added: "There will undoubtedly be a period of instability. This is inevitable after 42 years of a one-party rule."

Representatives of the Arab League, whose members desperately want to avoid more instability in the Middle East, have asked Washington to relax its pressure on the Syrian government. A Western diplomat based here said the United States has responded by recently emphasizing that its goal is changed Syrian behavior: an end to support for anti-Israeli militants and jihadists, who travel through Syria to Iraq, not a change in government.

"I think," he said, "that there is certainly a sense among professionals in the State Department that it is not necessarily a good thing to do to push this regime over the edge."

Steven A. Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that some in Washington wanted to bring down Syria's government, but he said the State Department realizes "if we think that we have problems in Iraq we will have more problems, more violence, if Assad comes crashing down."

I guess this is the knock on the neocons, right? Sure you can get rid of a tyrant, and have a democracy, or something approaching it instead, but despite this long term gain, the short term chaos is not worth it. How stupid and short sighted. We pushed for stability in the Middle East for so long to fight the commies, and that in large part caused the problems of today. We have a duty to set things right, and oppose dictators worldwide, whatever their stripe. Semper Sic Tyrannus!

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