As you may have already read, last week four US Senators introduced a bill to block any military aid to your colleagues fighting on the ground in Syria. The bill was sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans, which is to say that the general sentiment – to leave you on your own in the field – has bipartisan support in Washington, DC.
It’s true that, on the other hand, there is some bipartisan backing for your cause, but the reality is that arming your sons, husbands, and brothers is not popular with the American public, neither with the right, nor the left. Americans are tired of the Middle East, frustrated by it – also, frankly, we’re angry.
Over the last decade, the United States has brought down or helped to bring down four Arab dictators, and with little to show for it. For spending trillions of dollars to topple Saddam, you’d think that instead of conspiracy theories imputing the worst motives to us, we might have earned some gratitude in the region. Gratitude at least for the sacrifices made by our family and friends in uniform, the thousands dead, the tens of thousands wounded, so that Iraqis can vote in free and fair elections and live without fear of being dragged off by Saddam’s security forces to be tortured, raped, and murdered.
We also helped bring down Qaddafi, which didn’t stop Libyan Islamists from killing our ambassador there and three other Americans. In Egypt, the White House called for Hosni Mubarak to step down, which left a vacuum that Egyptian voters filled in their freest elections ever by choosing the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists with an explicitly anti-American agenda. Compared to these three outcomes, Tunisia, where we encouraged Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to leave, is an American success story – so far.
It’s not difficult to see then why there’s not much public US support for your cause. Polls show that about 25 percent of Americans believe the US should intervene in Syria. However, these polls are slightly misleading insofar as Americans do not ever favor foreign interventions. Because American citizens do not need to plunder foreign peoples to feed ourselves or furnish our homes, the public will never lead the charge for foreign intervention, not in Syria, not anywhere. It is the role of the president of the United States to explain to the public why there are sound strategic and humanitarian reasons to back your comrades, bring down Assad and advance the national interest of the United States. The fact that Obama’s aides and supporters excuse his inaction with poll numbers is just another symptom of the president’s failure as a leader.
You, too, have a leadership problem. I’m not referring to your military leadership, the various rebel commanders on the ground and their apparently often contentious relations with each other. Nor do I mean your political leadership, the fragmented nature of which the Obama administration has often, and cynically, pointed to as one of the reasons it won’t back the opposition. No, I’m talking about the intellectual leadership. I’m talking about you. I’m referring to your silence. I want to know where you were the last 40 years.
The world is astonished by your sacrifices, your courage and your strength in your struggle against Assad. But the regime in Damascus that is now at work slaughtering your loved ones has employed the same means against your neighbors and others for 40 years. You overcame your fears of Assad’s depredations when they came for you, but when it was others that the regime targeted for death, you said nothing. Or did you approve of it?
The regime waged acts of terror for 40 years against every country on your borders – Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Israel – other regional states, and us, against our family and friends. During the Iraq war, Assad turned your capital’s airport into a transit hub for foreign militants who sought to kill American troops fighting against extremists – Sunni and Shiite – so that Iraqis might have a better life. What did you tell yourselves when it was our sons and daughters who were put through Assad’s meat grinder?
What about regime atrocities against Arabs and Muslims? What did you tell yourselves when the Assad regime occupied Lebanon for 29 years? When it buried Lebanese in mass graves like the ones his son has dug for your sons? And the thousands of Lebanese the regime disappeared during the years of war and occupation as it has disappeared your brothers during your rebellion? What about the car bombs Assad dispatched to Baghdad over the last decade destined to murder Iraqis? What about the Turks killed by the PKK, yet another terrorist group supported by the Assads? What about the Palestinians slaughtered by other Palestinian factions that the regime supported? Where were you when the Hamas fighters that Assad backed threw their Fatah brothers off roofs in Gaza? Was your humanity awakened to the suffering of others, or was it only when they came for you that your conscience was stirred?
Hezbollah now besieges your cities and countryside – the Party of Satan, you call them now. But what about before Qusayr? What about thirty years ago when Hezbollah bombed the American embassy in Beirut, and then the US Marine barracks, killing 241 American marines, sailors and soldiers on a peace-keeping mission. Back then did you think Hezbollah was a gang of butchers? What about when Hezbollah turned the “pure” arms of the resistance against other Lebanese as it laid siege to Beirut and the Chouf mountains in 2008? What about when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon accused a Hezbollah assassination squad of killing Rafiq Hariri in 2005? Did any of this figure in your estimation of Hezbollah, or the support that Assad gave the party?
I know what you said when Hezbollah dragged Lebanon to war in the summer of 2006, costing your neighbor billions of dollars worth of damage, as well as thousands of lives. I was in Damascus the second week of the war and watched you celebrate Hezbollah’s war against the Zionists, and Assad’s supporting role, too. If they were fighting the Jews, you believed, they were in the right. You were played for fools. For 40 years the regime sold you on the notion that the great enemy was the Zionist entity, which permitted the Assads to rule and kept the Syrian state unified. But the reason you cannot live together now in peace, the reason Syria is at war, is because you were held together by hatred of someone else, Israel, the Jews.
Have you not noticed yet that it all hangs on the same thread? The hateful language the regime used about Israelis, Jews, is the same extermination-ist rhetoric driving their war against Sunnis, against you. You, says Assad, are “foreign terrorists.” The Jews, said the regime, are a colonialist export, foreign to the region. They must be destroyed, driven into the sea, exterminated – the same plans he now has in store for you. Assad’s war against you shows that the Arab war against Israel is simply another aspect of a regional dynamic – the inability to accept and live with the other, whether they are Sunnis, Alawites, Shiite, Druze, Christians, Jews, or for that matter Americans.
We need an account from you, especially those of us, like me, who support your cause. If we hesitate to say we are your friends, it is because we do not know who you are, where you are going, or where you have been for the last 40 years, when the regime that now hunts you like animals was killing all the rest of us.
Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.
Read this article in Arabic