Rogue State Rollback in Syria

by N. M. GUARIGLIA June 4, 2012

Across the jihadist state spectrum, there are failed states, like Somalia, where no political alternative seems feasible.  There are triangulating states, like Pakistan, where the government covertly supports our enemies, but the alternative is potentially worse.  Then there are rogue states, like Iran and Syria, where the governments openly support our terrorist adversaries.  The solution to these rogue states, especially those in the midst of a popular uprising, ought to be rollback.

Senator McCain, when running for the White House the first time, called this policy "rogue state rollback."  While its purpose is the overthrow of an adversarial government, it isn't a call for U.S. military intervention.  Rather, as Sen. McCain explained in 2000, "You do whatever you can, whether it be the use of propaganda... whether it be arming and training and equipping... this is an attempt to avoid U.S. military involvement."

Twelve years later, Sen. McCain is again calling for the implementation of this concept-this time, in Syria.  "It's time to act," Sen. McCain said while traveling overseas.  "It's time to give the Syrian opposition the weapons in order to defend themselves.  It's not a fair fight."

A friend recently e-mailed me a video of the massacre in Al-Houla; dozens and dozens of dead Syrian children, their faces, heads, and bodies mangled, splattered apart like squashed fruit.  Much like the 2004 beheading video of Nick Berg in Iraq, there is an otherworldliness to the footage of Al-Houla.  And yet it isn't another world.  This is our world.

It is a dangerous precedent to accept the "responsibility to protect" doctrine of military intervention-particularly in the age of the Internet, when any viral video of an atrocity could seemingly justify the use of force by tugging on our collective heartstrings.  But in the case of Syria, the United States would not merely be helping the innocent people of Syria for altruistic reasons; we would also be destroying our enemy in Damascus for strategic and advantageous reasons.

It would be a nice thing to see President Obama and Governor Romney begin the campaign season by agreeing on this issue: the United States should support the Syrian opposition until the Bashar al-Assad regime is overthrown.  We should do so without resorting to U.S. military involvement, but rather with moral and material support-covert and overt-provided to the Syrians fighting for Assad's downfall.  Since last year, upwards of 14,000 innocents have been murdered by the Syrian regime.  Assad is a war criminal, a mass-murdering, terrorist-supporting, dictatorial tyrant that ought to be dragged through the streets by his own people in a manner similar to the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

There are legitimate worries that Assad's fall, like Mubarak's fall in Egypt, may lead to the rise of an even more radical regime dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.  Unlike Egypt, where these fears were warranted, Syria is a bit different.  Mubarak was, at least ostensibly, an ally of the United States.  Our very alliance with Mubarak was what led to the popularity of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.  Syria is comprised of a much more secular population that can say, "At least the United States opposes our oppressor."  In Egypt, the Islamists were the bulk of the opposition.  In Syria, the Islamists are a smaller fragment of the opposition.

Regardless, even if the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood were to gain a stronger foothold in a post-Assad Syrian government, it would be worth the geopolitical trade-off: the Islamic Republic of Iran will have lost its umbilical cord to the Near East.  We will have helped oversee the fall of Iran's primary ally in Damascus, and the chief sponsor of the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza.

The United States should officially recognize the Syrian National Council, exiled in Turkey, as the new Syrian government, and should arm the defectors in the Free Syrian Army with weapons and money.  These dissidents are not radical Islamists.  We should provide the Free Syrian Army with Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) in order to locate and secure Assad's chemical weapons stockpiles, so as not to get raided in the ensuing chaos and anarchy.  Once Assad falls without U.S. military intervention, we would then have a cost-effective template for dealing with the Iranian regime.  If the world does not unite to overthrow the mullahs in Tehran, the result will be war, whether it is this year, next year, or the year after that. 

Politicians often ask: "What would Reagan do?"  The answer was given in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Nicaragua, Angola, and all over the communist world throughout the 1980s: rogue state rollback.  Support the dissidents.  Bring down the tyrants without firing a shot.

Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.


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