Cliff May

Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel is among those arguing that “one of the priorities of the international community after Assad falls will be to protect the Alawite community and its allies from vengeance.” Color me dubious. After failing to take serious steps to protect Assad’s victims, we’re going to make it a “priority” to prevent revenge against those viewed as Assad’s accomplices?

On the other hand, I can’t go as far as my colleague Lee Smith, who wrote: “The idea that the Assad regime and its supporters warrant American protection simply because they are a minority group is not only strategically incoherent but immoral. . . . Does anyone believe that in the aftermath of World War II it was the role of the United States to save the Nazis and their allies from the Red Army? Of course not.”

American forces in Europe did indeed turn a blind eye not only to Soviet brutality but also as the French roughly settled scores with fellow citizens who had been cozy with German invaders. But that was then, this is now — I’m not sure the same rules apply. And there is this to consider: What would follow the slaughter of Syrian Alawites and Christians? What kind of Syria could be built on this graveyard?

Such concerns have policy implications. To stop Assad’s carnage as soon as possible requires providing material support to Syrian rebels — very carefully and probably covertly. We want our Syrian friends — we do have some — in possession of more money and guns. That will not only help them defend themselves against Assad’s troops now, it also will enhance their strength vis-à-vis other factions later. What’s more, Obama has said many times that we are at war with al-Qaeda. Surely that implies we should not permit al-Qaeda to get the upper hand — not in Syria, not in Iraq, not in Africa, not anywhere.

When the fighting is over, the last thing we should want to see is the rise of yet another strongman. A regime dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood would be no victory for freedom either.

Other outcomes can be imagined. Syria is a mosaic of ethno-religious communities. Good fences will be required to make them good neighbors. Start with Syria’s Kurds, who have been aloof from the fighting, relatively safe in their northeastern territories. In a post-Assad Syria, they’ll want substantial autonomy. They should have it within a federal Syria that guarantees minority rights — to Alawites, Christians, Druze, and other groups. Al-Qaeda won’t like that, Iran and Hezbollah won’t like that, and some in the Sunni majority won’t like it either. But those who hope to rebuild Syria as a decent country, independent and at peace within its borders, should readily grasp the benefits.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.