Is there a case for keeping Assad?

Is there a case for keeping Assad?
A Syrian child picks out clothing at a refugee bazaar. Photo Credit Pixabay Images

Yesterday the Russian Federation vetoed a draft UN Security Council Resolution that demanded Bashir al-Assad cooperate with investigators into the Chemical attack on his own people.

The veto became grist for righteous indignation from the USA and Great Britain.  It is a public relations bonanza for the Trump Administration.  The Administration can position itself as clearly on the side of angels, and portray Russia as evil. This is the 8th such veto from Russia in support of Assad.

That makes it a win-win for President Trump but do we really want Assad gone?

As CNN noted, the Syrian Civil War is a free for all.  It is a foreign policy nightmare.  You can view a helpful chart of who is fighting and supporting whom CNN prepared by clicking here.

Can a case be made for keeping Assad in power?  Russia, Assad’s ally, and protector think so.  So do many American diplomats and foreign policy thinkers who are not terribly public with their views.

There is a reason why they are not public.  In foreign policy, there is very little black and white but there are a million shades of gray.  Foreign policy is about realpolitik and not as much about ideals.

In America, we sell ideals a lot.  We may not practice them, but they are the foundation of the American National Brand.  As in all good brand based marketing, the brand must be reaffirmed in the public’s mind on a regular basis.

The rub comes when realpolitik comes into play and the public starts asking pesky questions like, “What happened to our ideals about freedom?”

Some well-meaning people in America are fond of attacking Israel for the way Israel handles Arabs who would love to push Israel into the sea.  What is going on in Syria is a good blueprint on what would happen to Israel if she tried to adopt Western sensibilities in their tough neighborhood.

In America, we live according to the rule of law.  In the Arab states, an orderly society is kept by brute force and not by written laws.  There is precious little respect for the rule of law in that part of the world.  There is a lot of respect for an iron boot and strongmen.

For all practical purposes, the Assad regime and the Ba’ath Party in Syria are secular socialists.  While Assad’s tribe is largely Shi’ite, the dominant religion in Iran, they are a long way from being an Islamic Republic.

The Ba’athists came into existence when France left the region.  Taking a cue from the colonial powers, they gave free healthcare to the population, as well as education up through the High School level.  It was a monumental change in their society.

That hasn’t been enough to cling to power.  The USA caused instability in the region when we invaded Iraq.  That instability has spread to Syria.  Opposition groups have existed for a long time, but the American invasion gave the groups a really big push. That is why former GHW Bush National Security Adviser, General Brent Scowcroft urged a halt to the invasion even as troops crossed the border into Iraq.  Jingoism won that debate.

From the CNN chart, it is evident everybody is fighting everyone else.  To add to the confusion, the USA is supporting Saudi Arabia’s efforts.  In turn, that means we are supporting some groups that are affiliated with al-Qaeda.  You remember them, the folks who slammed jets into the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and crashed a Jet in the Pennsylvania countryside.

While not a nice guy by any means, and not a guy who believes and supports American Principles, he does kill many of our mortal enemies.

Assad is also a better bet for our ally in the region, Israel, than nearly all the groups opposing Assad.  It is clearly against American interests for Israel to be attacked by even more extreme zealots.

The ISIS/Muslim Brotherhood/al-Qaeda/Hezbollah alternatives to Assad should not have the legitimacy of statehood.  That gives them a platform and additional power to spread their ideology which is a threat to our peace and security.

While it has been a PR bonanza for Donald Trump, the fact he got one right has not translated into better approval ratings.  Looking at the Gallup poll results since the attack, his approval has not changed significantly with only a modest lessening of his disapproval rating.

All of this instability has a negative impact on America.  Instability keeps the price of gas up which is bad for the economy.  The instability causes uncertainty in markets as a drop in stock prices in the wake of the attack indicates.

For the moment, it appears the Trump Administration is not turning back to the jingoism of the Bush years.  For those who fear Trump’s attack signals a return to American foreign policy chauvinism turned hostile, there is little to indicate that is the case.

To defeat the Ottoman Empire who was Germany’s allies in World War I, the French and the British tried to introduce self-determination and the idea of Nation on people who were content to be tribal.

We now know that people need the freedom to develop their own society in their own ways.  European colonialism and the ideas they imparted on areas they ruled has been and continues to be a massive failure.  From Yugoslavia to Suez, to North Africa, Syria, Iraq, and Kuwait, it has largely been a history of failed ideas.

What’s the fix?  That’s a good question.  If you have the answer, please let me know.

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