Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sowing The Seeds Of Destruction

Daniel Pipes puts forward his case for playing both sides against each other:

Evil forces pose less danger to us when they make war on each other. This (1) keeps them focused locally and (2) prevents either one from emerging victorious (and thereby posing a yet-greater danger). Western powers should guide enemies to stalemate by helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong the conflict.

This policy has precedent. Through most of World War II, Nazi Germany was on the offensive against Soviet Russia, and keeping German troops tied down on the Eastern Front was critical to an Allied victory. Franklin D. Roosevelt therefore helped Joseph Stalin by provisioning his forces and coordinating the war effort with him. This morally repugnant but strategically necessary policy succeeded. And Stalin was a far worse monster than is Assad.

The Iraq–Iran War of 1980–88 created a similar situation. After mid 1982, when Ayatollah Khomeini’s forces went on the offense against those of Saddam Hussein, Western governments began supporting Iraq. Yes, the Iraqi regime had started the hostilities and was more brutal, but the Iranian one was ideologically more dangerous and on the offensive.
The best-case scenario is when the hostilities hobble both sides and prevent either one from merging victorious. In the apocryphal words of Henry Kissinger, “It’s a pity they both can’t lose.” 
In this spirit, I argued for U.S. help to the losing party, whichever that might be, as in this May 1987 analysis: “In 1980, when Iraq threatened Iran, our interests lay at least partly with Iran. But Iraq has been on the defensive since the summer of 1982, and Washington now belongs firmly on its side. . . . Looking to the future, should Iraq once again take the offensive, an unlikely but not impossible change, the United States should switch again and consider giving assistance to Iran.”
Applying this same logic to Syria today finds notable parallels. Assad fills the role of Saddam Hussein — the brutal Baathist dictator who began the violence. The rebel forces resemble Iran — the initial victim getting stronger over time and posing an increasing Islamist danger. In both cases continued fighting endangers the neighborhood and both sides engage in war crimes and pose a danger to Western interests.
Yes, Assad’s survival benefits Tehran, the region’s most dangerous regime. But a rebel victory would hugely boost the increasingly rogue Turkish government while empowering jihadis and replacing the Assad government with triumphant, inflamed Islamists. 
Continued fighting does less damage to Western interests than letting the Islamists take power.
There are worse prospects than Sunni and Shiite Islamists mixing it up and Hamas jihadis killing Hezbollah jihadis, and vice-versa. Better that neither side wins.
On the happy day when Assad and Tehran have fought the rebels and Ankara to mutual exhaustion, Western support then can go to non-Baathist and non-Islamist elements in Syria, helping them offer a moderate alternative to today’s wretched choices and lead to a better future.

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