You wrote one of the best cases for U.S. intervention in Syria to aid the rebels that I have read. We are getting more reports of al-Qaida in Syria fighting President Assad’s regime. What do you say to those who fear that as bad as Bashar al-Assad has been — and he’s been pretty damn bad — the potential for an Islamist-led Syria, even if more remote a possibility than Egypt, is even more frightening?
It’s true that al-Qaida fighters are showing up in Syria, but they’re a microscopic percentage of the rebel force. Their numbers are all but certain to keep growing, though, the longer this drags on, so the sooner Assad is overthrown the better.
But Syria is far less likely to be ruled by Islamists than Egypt, partly because Syria has a much larger percentage of non-Muslims living there, but also because radical Islam isn’t as popular even among the Muslim population. Radical Islam is more popular in Egypt than anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia, and it’s a mistake to assume that what happens there will happen everywhere else as a matter of course.
And it’s pretty unlikely that Assad’s replacement will be worse for us than he is. What are we worried about? That Syria will become a state sponsor of terrorism? That the government will be hostile to the United States? That it will be hostile to Israel? Syria is already all of those things.
Are we worried that the next government will terrorize its neighbors? That it will mass-murder it citizens? That it will use al-Qaida fighters in proxy wars against the United States? Assad already does all of those things.
If he falls, our biggest enemy in the region—the Iranian government—will be dealt a terrible blow.
Those who think we should have stuck with Mubarak need to think long and hard before extending Assad the same courtesy. The debate over what we should have done with Mubarak is worth having because he was sort of an ally, but Assad is an enemy of the United States. He has more American blood under his fingernails than any other Arab head of state in the world. Enough. Out with him.
From your time in the region, how do you think an Israeli attack on Iran would play out? How would Iran respond?
I’ll give you two scenarios.
Scenario one: Israel destroys Iran’s nuclear weapons and only kills a small number of people — almost exclusively weapon scientists. The Iranian government, not wanting to risk a wider war that could lead to its destruction, chooses not to retaliate. The world sighs in collective relief.
Scenario two: Israel’s first strike against Iran triggers a massive missile barrage from Hezbollah in Lebanon. Skyscrapers in Tel Aviv explode and kill thousands of people. Israel invades Lebanon and conducts the biggest military operation since the siege of Beirut in 1982. Iran fires missiles at strategic American and Arab targets in the Persian Gulf, drawing in the United States and the Saudis. The entire region comes apart. Oil prices spike and crash the global economy.
Most likely, we’d see a series of events somewhere between those extremes. Accurately forecasting much more than that is beyond any human being’s ability. It would be akin to predicting all of 2013’s hurricane landfalls in 2012. It’s impossible. There are too many chaotic variables.