Frederic C. Hof writes: Syria is dying. Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that the price of his removal is the death of the nation. A growing extremist minority in the armed opposition has made it clear that a Syria of citizenship and civil society is, in its view, an abomination to be killed. And those in the middle long begging for Western security assistance are increasingly bemoaning that it is already too late. Between the cold, cynical sectarianism of Assad and the white-hot sectarian hatred of those extremists among his opponents Syria already is all but gone, a body politic as numbingly cold and colorless as the harsh wintry hell bringing misery and hopelessness to untold numbers of displaced Syrians.
It might in fact be too late to save Syria from the diabolical ministrations of Assad and his enabling Salafist enemies. Indeed, the single-minded, self-centered destructiveness of foes who once cooperated in the killing of Iraqis and who now collaborate in the murder of Syria may be sufficiently powerful to block any effort at national salvation regardless of its source. By facilitating Assad’s poison pill sectarian strategy Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia have facilitated the implantation of al-Qaeda (in the form of the Nusra Front) in Syria. By funneling arms and money to those calling for death to Alawites and the establishment of a Syrian emirate, donors in certain Gulf countries, Turkey, and elsewhere have advanced Assad’s survival strategy with a toxic blend of tactical skill and strategic stupidity. As in “Murder on the Orient Express,” many hands have plunged the knife into a victim perhaps too far gone to be saved.
Yet even if one accepted, analytically, the “it’s too late to save Syria” thesis, and the argument that saving Syria was never something the United States and its allies could do, can this be the basis of prudent policy? If Syria, as now appears likely, becomes a death star of failed statehood, will the effects of its ravaged carcass on the surrounding neighborhood be so benign as to present no challenges to US statecraft far more perilous than those presented by Syria now? Will the great sucking sounds of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and perhaps Iraq being pulled into the black hole of what was once Syria become the next normal; chapter two in the “it’s too late” saga? Will Americans at that point look back with regret at our reluctance to try to shape and influence when we may at least have had a chance to do so? [Continue reading…]