They told me they do not support Assad, nor do they support the Sunni jihadists fighting him. They have no love for the Muslim Brothers also vying for power. What the Syriacs do want is to survive in their homeland. They favor toleration and substantial autonomy not only for themselves but for Syria’s other minorities, for example the Kurds, the Druze, the Armenians, the Turkmen, and even the Alawites, Assad’s people. My Syriac friends said they believe there are millions of urbanized Sunni Syrians who also do not want to live under the domination of an Iranian viceroy, jihadists, or Islamists.
The Syriacs are not asking that American troops intervene. They aren’t asking for sophisticated arms that could fall into terrorist hands. They would appreciate simple weapons they can use to defend themselves, their villages, and their families from Assad’s forces, jihadists, and bands of thugs. Humanitarian aid would be useful, too.
I would argue that it is in America’s interest to support such people — in Syria, in Egypt, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, pretty much everywhere. Such people should not be orphans while terrorists, totalitarians, and tyrants of all stripes receive abundant support from Iran, Russia, Gulf petro-princes and, more often than not, the United Nations. What kind of people are we if we take more pains to save snail darters than Syriacs?
If Assad survives, Iran’s rulers will pop the pomegranate juice — a battle won in a war they’ve been waging since 1979. By contrast, Assad’s fall would set back, perhaps permanently, Iranian attempts to spread their Islamic Revolution to Arab and Sunni lands. For this reason alone, “Assad must go.” A strategy to help him on his way is long overdue.
What comes after Assad is probably not peace and prosperity. So it makes sense to begin, albeit belatedly, bolstering those willing to resist the foreign jihadists, as well as those who, post-Assad, would favor a federalized Syrian government, one in which no individual or faction can dictate to the others.
I’m not saying that is a good option. I am saying that it’s less bad than the others. It’s certainly better than playing Hamlet while those who seek to diminish us (e.g. Putin), and those who seek to destroy us (e.g. Iran’s rulers and their jihadist rivals) shape the future for Syria and the Middle East.