Unfortunately, the picture is even murkier than what Ezra Klein presents above and below this paragraph. There is no right side in this war. The division between what he terms “the rebels” and ISIS are not particularly stark. The narrative of taking out the evil Assad to the merry band of rebels is a gross oversimplification.
Assad’s soft fascism is evil, but not nearly as evil as Islamist fundamentalism, according to the great economic philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose house was blown up by Assad’s father when his grandfather voted against him in Syrian parliament. His perspective, which I share is that “You do not compare Assad’s regime to the Danish or Norwegian governments, but to the alternative.” America points to an unproven and difficult to believe chemical weapon attack (difficult to believe given that Assad is no dummy) as impetus to fight an unwinnable war with no foreseeable end. Rather than watch the above video, if you want to understand the conflict look at Taleb’s chart below.
Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Chart on the Syrian Conflict
Since we gave Iran 150 billion dollars to not build nuclear weapons, Iran is free to fund and fight with Syria to preserve Shia Islam, as eight proxy wars are fought in six different countries. While I tend to prefer moderate Shia Islam (what is practiced in Syria and Iran) to Sunni Islam (particularly Wahhabi Saudi extremism), Iran and Syria are both jihadist states and in a vacuum evil. Assad is a dictator who was nearly overthrown, so he killed his non-violent adversaries in 2011. This is exactly what totalitarian dictators with their image planted on every street corner do.
Now let’s take a look at our allies. According to npr, 1/3 of the rebels support ISIS. These are not proxies of the nonviolent Arab Spring protesters. 60% are Islamist jihadists as of 2015. Given the source, I assume this is a charitable estimate. They found 25% to not belong to an ideology (code word for mercenaries often trained by the USA or liars). Without even thinking about ISIS, Assad’s main adversaries, “the rebels” mostly believe in jihad, the infallibility of the Quran and the Wahhabi sect that largely governs Saudi Arabia is being spread all over the Middle East, Europe and America that is responsible for Osama Bin Laden. Aware of the problem, and the fact that the weapons and training we offered to fight ISIS are being directed to ISIS and Al Qaeda either through negligence or to combat Assad, Senator Rand Paul was trying to push a bipartisan bill to stop arming terrorists a month ago.
Aside from galvanizing support at home, I have no idea what Trump is thinking. He definitely won the PR battle, which legitimizes him with the leftists he needs to pass his exclusively tax-payer funded, trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. One of the main reasons I supported Trump (admittedly only after he was elected) was because he was going to stay out of Syria. He was different than the neocons and Hillary who were going to start World War 3, who are now applauding Trump’s leadership.
Establishing a no-fly zone seems like a no-brainer, but do we really want to be at war with Russia, Syria, Hezbollah and Iran? Did we really have to provoke Assad? If it was us alone, I could definitely stomach it, not that I think just because Assad is essentially a Western-style dictator, he is any worse than a Communist dictator or the many Islamist dictators in the region. I do believe in standing up to evil, but there are degrees of evil. Our side is much worse in this war. Saudi Arabia is the crux of the rise of Islamist extremism, who along with Qatar funded ISIS and indirectly funded the 9/11 hijackers.
While at first I reverted to the “this is a really complex issue and the government must know something we don’t,” I came to the conclusion this war is an idiotic proposition, especially after the Iran Deal (Obama’s other legacy) that greatly strengthened our enemy and ideological enemy Iran. Iran, the “moderate” nation that executes homosexuals, whose world film class directors blame us for “the racist Muslim Ban,” while they arm, fund and fight with Assad. And of course, like all the obscenely wealthy underpopulated gulf states they fight proxy wars against, Iran refuses to take in refugees or the “equally oppressed” Palestinians. To make matters worse, Trump is standing proud with the Jordanian King Abdullah II, who blames Israel for the instability of the Middle East without offering refuge to the “victims” in Gaza and The West Bank even though 70% of his population is Palestinian. Trump should be ashamed of himself when he buys his daughter’s Passover chametz today.
(Image Credit: A still from Ezra Klein’s doc: Syria’s War: Who is fighting and why)