Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Syria in Context

The context is the ongoing struggle between Shia and Sunni sects of Islam.  YaLibnan reprinted an article from CNN by Geneive Abdo along with this helpful map at right.  In both Iraq and Syria, the violence between Sunnis and Shia continues as borders drawn by French and British colonialists don't correspond to the tribal and sectarian divisions of the region.

Abdo points out that Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has attempted to rally the Sunni world into defeating the Shia "heretics." On the Sunni side we have the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda.  Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are Shia.  But Syria is not predominantly Shia, and but Bashar al-Assad and his predecessor/father are Allawites leading to the alliance with Iran.  Like the al-Qaeda-in-Iraq targeting of Shiites during the U.S. occupation there, the Syrian conflict is best understood as part of a long term struggle between Sunnis and Shiites.

However, not all Sunnis are united in common cause.  The Saudis see themselves as the center of Islam and view the Muslim Brotherhood as a rival.  Ottoman Turkey was once the center of the Muslim world and modern Turks are viewed with suspicion by Arab Muslims.

With evidence of a chemical attack by Assad's forces, we are being pushed into a dangerous game.  Supporting the opposition could be chemical weaponry into the hands of al-Qaeda if Assad falls.  But our moral authority is lost if we do nothing, especially after Obama's "red line" speech.  Assad apparently thought that he could get away with this.  Here is a quote from Obama:
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," the president said. "That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
Maybe 350-400 deaths doesn't qualify as "a whole bunch" in Obama's thinking.  Is that the lamest threat ever issued by a Commander-in-Chief?  If we intervene now, and don't overthrow Assad, there will be pressure to do so.  But if we succeed, we will be faced with a different menace that has taken over the chemical weapons cache.  At least Assad only gassed Syrians, al-Qaeda may not be so restrained.

We probably have to do something to hurt Assad, but which allows him to continue in power.  Better yet, let the Saudis broker a deal.  They hate both sides, but don't want problems spilling over into other areas. We might need the Israeli's help too.  Bad timing to have been pissing off your few friends in the region, eh?

Long term, we need to drive down the price of oil so these nut-jobs don't have the cash to buy so much weaponry, chemical and otherwise.

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