So when President Obama justified the intervention in Libya based on fear of a “bloodbath” — following Moammar Qaddafi’s vow to show “no mercy” to rebels in the country’s east — I was supportive. “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” Obama said.
Across the Mediterranean, many Syrian opponents of Bashar al-Assad took that to mean there was a red line the dictator would not be permitted to cross. Other Syrians argued that Obama was not sincere: that his concern for Libya derived from Europe’s thirst for oil and distaste for North African refugees. As the Syrian death toll has mounted — estimates are now near 19,000 — this interpretation has become difficult to dispute.
Western reluctance to take steps to stop Assad’s butchery created a vacuum al-Qaeda has been attempting to fill. When the U.S. was in Iraq, Assad facilitated the flow of foreign jihadi killers across his eastern border. Now the jihadis are coming home to roost — with three of Assad’s top deputies killed by a bomb on July 18.
In that, there is rough justice but not irony: The jihadis seek domination in Iraq (where al-Qaeda attacks have been rising sharply since the U.S. withdrawal), Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali — whatever lands they can get their bloody hands on. They will accept help from anyone who will give it. But Islamists, like Communists, are not burdened by such bourgeois sentiments as gratitude. That should have been among the key lessons we learned after helping the mujahedeen end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Assad’s killing machine has been weakened and may be defeated — I can’t predict when. What can be foreseen: The day Assad falls, there will be an explosion of anger not just against him and his inner circle, but against all Alawites, his minority sect (about 12 percent of the population), and against those Christians who long ago decided that an alliance with Assad was their least-worst option. The jihadis will take the lead in this butchery — and make every effort to remain leaders thereafter. What will be the American and European response?