By Daniel Greenfield l November 21, 2011
Forget all the talk about democracy and a revolt against tyranny, the choice here isn’t being a tyrant and a populist movement, it’s which species of Islamists will come out on top. On one side is Iran and on the other are the Gulf States and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Syria is not an Islamist regime, except to the extent which all Muslims countries incorporate Islamic law into their legal and social systems, but it is the pawn of Iran, a Shiite Islamist state. On the other side are Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulfies, Turkey and the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
Forget all the nonsense about a secular opposition. The so-called liberals will show up just enough to legitimate the uprising and then fade away when it’s time for the Imams to take power. That is how it happened in Iran, and despite every prediction too many people refused to listen when they were told it would happen in Egypt. Now it has happened in Egypt.
Some neo-conservatives have insisted on treating the Arab Spring as if it were an extension of Iraq. It’s not. Iraq was meant to be a supervised reconstruction. The Arab Spring empowers Islamists and nothing else. So let’s move on to the real issue. Is there any point in backing one side or the other in Syria?
To begin with, what is Syria? It’s a leftover from the days when the Middle East was overrun with local Arab Socialist tyrannies. Like most of the breed, the Syrian version was another combination of military coup, family dynasty tied in with religious and ethnic elements. Run by the Baath Party as an extension of the Assad family and the Alawite splinter Shiite sect, it’s one of the last of the old tyrannies standing after the fall of Saddam. But none of that really matters.
The days when Syria was anything more than a bypass for Iranian weapons and influence are long gone. There was a time when it was a building block in the Arab Socialist plan for a regional state and even briefly merged with Egypt into the United Arab Republic. Now it’s the odd man out in a region that is being divided along religious lines. It doesn’t fit into the Sunni Islamist plans for a Caliphate and while it is a vector for Iranian Shiite influence, the Alawites are too out of the mainstream and Syria is mostly Sunni, making it another poor fit.
In a divided region everyone is trying to make their own regional superstate. If the Assad family is overthrown and the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of democracy wins, then Syria will fit neatly into the plans for a regional Caliphate. It will also neuter Hezbollah, damage Hamas and set back Iran, which are all good things. Unfortunately it’s a matter of choosing the devil you don’t know. Choking Iranian influence is not a bad thing, but the long term implications of handing over Syria to the Brotherhood are just as bad, if not worse.
Whatever happens, the United States is not going to oversee the transition in Syria. At most Obama will drop a few bombs and then let the locals handle it, just as he did in Libya. There it led to the LIFG, which is linked to Al-Qaeda and more recently to the Muslim Brotherhood, playing a major role in the new Libya. The situation is even worse in Syria, where the transition is likely to be overseen by Turkey’s AKP Islamist party, which is backing the Muslim Brotherhood.
The thorniest parts of the Arab Spring have been in Bahrain and Syria, where they also double as religious civil wars fought by a religious majority that is out of power against a religious minority in power. The Saudi controlled Arab League backed a ‘No Fly Zone’ in exchange for a free hand in suppressing the Shiites in Bahrain using Saudi tanks. The Arab League has ostracized Syria, which is led by an unrecognized Islamic sect and is in bed with Iran. It’s not inconceivable that the League would back another No Fly Zone as a gateway to regime change in Syria.
Does the United States have an interest in backing Sunni supremacy in the region? Not really. There are plenty of politicians, experts and generals who think otherwise, and most of them are speaking under Saudi influence. If anything, we have a vested interest in a divided Muslim world, and it is in our interest to deepen and multiply those divisions. But that isn’t much of a plan either.
We have no friends in the Muslim world, the closest thing that we have to it are the dictators who needed us, and this administration helped push a whole lot of them under the bus. Sunni Islamists now have their claws deep into North Africa and that’s bad news for everyone. Egypt, the regional power, has fallen into the lap of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkey is in the claws of an Islamist party that has managed to purge the opposition and shut down the military leadership, without a peep from the EU or the UN.
While it’s not likely that those countries could currently be blended into a single leadership, the fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia is no longer the only Sunni Islamist superpower in the region. And joining it are two Sunni Islamist regimes with potent militaries at their disposal and serious naval power. Iraq is still in flux, and we have yet to see if it will fall back into the Sunni camp or away into the Shiite camp. Syria is now in play.
Backing the democratic impulses of the Syrian people or any such nonsense is the last thing that should be on our minds. The idea that populist Islamism will lead to less violence and more stability is an ominous notion. We’re better off with a Muslim world that is occupied with internal power struggles and has fewer resources to throw into fighting us. A stable Middle East would not be a peaceful place; it could only achieve internal equilibrium through religious and political repression for the benefit of the majority, while directing violence externally at the free world.
This is already the case, but the amount of resources being thrown into the war against the West is limited compared to what it could be if Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, the UAE, Iraq and Yemen were all suddenly on the same page. Such a perfect union isn’t likely to happen, even with religious differences out of the way, the ethnic divisions between Arabs and Turks still linger, not to mention the family rivalries, but the prospect of such a thing alone is a good reason not to pursue policies that bring it any closer.
American ascendance, along with the collapse of the USSR, poured money into the Gulf Islamist clan despotisms and brought down the Arab Socialist republics. But the Obama Administration and its Arab Spring has brought a quantum leap in the expansion of their influence at home. Traditionally, the Saudis could own Washington, DC and play ball in Bahrain and Yemen, but their influence had limits. Suddenly even Qatar and its Al-Jazeera pet network could buy it regional revolutions backed by the idiots in DC.
The Carter Administration helped turn Iran into a Shiite Islamist superpower, and his successor has paved the way for the rise of a regional Sunni Islamist union. Paradoxically that means we need Iran to be where it is, although preferably without nuclear weapons and even more preferably without Ayatollah rule.
The problem with a divided Middle East is that rival Muslim countries will prove their bona fides by waging open or covert wars against us. But the only thing worse than that is a united Middle East, it isn’t likely to happen, but even growing unity or partial unity would be bad enough.
If the Brotherhood wins in Egypt and Syria, they can have another go at melding the two countries under a single system. If they can stage a revolution in Jordan, and move the LIFG into power in Libya, then there could be an Islamist superstate stretching from North Africa through Gaza and sitting on the board of Iraq, which will become ground zero for another religious civil war.
Whether the various Brotherhood outposts could stitch together so many countries is an open question, but it’s a dangerous one and it’s reason enough to leave Syria alone. More compellingly, we have nothing to gain in Syria. No matter what happens, whoever comes out on top will be our enemy. And that’s a general rule for the Muslim world. We have no friends there, only lesser enemies who mean us less harm.
The Muslim world is torn in a civil war between religions, philosophies and dynasties. It’s conceivably possible that in Iran, with a large educated elite that is tired of Islamists, we might find some friends among the rebels, but it’s an absolutely hopeless task in Syria, which is riven between the outdated left and the Islamist right, just as it was a hopeless task in Egypt.
Whatever happens in Syria will be bad for us in some ways and good for us in others; it will harm some of our enemies and help some of our other enemies. There’s no reason for us to intervene in Syria because the losses will outweigh the gains.
Daniel Greenfield is a New York City-based writer and freelance commentator with a special focus on the War on Terror and the rising threat to Western Civilization. Mr. Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He maintains a blog and is a contributor to