Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't let moral bankruptcy win

[Originally posted at NOW]

When an unelected dictator uses a vast portion of his military firepower, from troops to tanks to attack helicopters to fighter jets, in addition to outlawed weaponry such as cluster munitions, to kill over 30,000 of his subjects (many of them children), one might have thought few would disagree that the only suitable destination for the man was the dock at the International Criminal Court.

And yet disagree some do, including one Glenn E. Robinson, who on Monday called for keeping Bashar al-Assad in the presidential palace in a Foreign Policy article titled ‘Don’t Let the Syrian Rebels Win’.

The highlights in this impressive exhibit of moral and logical bankruptcy are legion, and they centre on his portrayal of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the driving force of the uprising (“the most coherent political force in Syria’s opposition today”). It isn’t at all easy to keep up with the contradictions in his premises, but give it a try: He says that high-profile Syrian expatriate figures have no influence on the ground (“forget about the expats”). He says that while foreign jihadists are but “a sliver of those fighting the Assad regime”, Syria has “more than enough” “jihadis and radical Islamists” of its own to worry about. He also says that the rebels are “often people just looking to protect their families and communities from the Assads’ onslaught”.

These may all be true, but if they are, then it cannot also be true that the MB makes up the majority on the ground. For starters, the MB is the exiled opposition – the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council, which directly or indirectly controls around half the seats on the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, was compromised from day one by its MB domination. Second, for all the unpleasant elements of MB ideology, Iraq-style jihadism is not part of it. MB members may well privately approve of Salafist-jihadist suicide attacks and so on, but they will not carry them out themselves.

The examples of Egypt and Tunisia, unwisely raised by Robinson, are fully consistent with this. Third, if rebels “often” take up arms purely in self-defense, then on what grounds does Robinson smear them with the Islamist brush? All this, incidentally, after haughtily lamenting that “people so often miss the nature of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood”.

He ends by asserting that “a negotiated outcome remains the best solution” to the conflict. Even if we ignore (as he does) that this is impossible, it remains unclear why on earth it’s desirable. Consider that of the three possible outcomes – political solution; military victory for Assad; military victory for the rebels – the first two leave a mass-murderer in control of over 20 million people.

Robinson favours this, purely so as to prevent the hypothetical shortcomings of his successors. What conceivable sense does it make – morally, legally – to leave a war criminal in power, unpunished, while punishing his victims for crimes they haven’t yet committed?

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