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No Hysteria on Syria

On Andrew Sullivan’s website, guest blogger Gregory Djerejian (whose normal home is The Belgravia Dispatch) bemoans what he calls “Syria Hysteria.” The supposed hysterics in question include Senator Joe Lieberman, former Bush speechwriter (and my current colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations) Mike Gerson, and yours truly, who is dubbed “our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite.” That’s pretty distinguished company, even without the flattering comparison to one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.

Djerejian, a lawyer who works at a financial services company in New York, is aghast that all of us have been sounding the alarm about Syria’s role in facilitating the infiltration of dozens of jihadists into Iraq, where they are responsible for carrying out some of the worst terrorist outrages. The fact that dozens of jihadists are entering Iraq from Syria every month is incontestable; this has been stated publicly by General David Petraeus and numerous other officials, who have based their claims on interrogations of captured terrorists and other hard intelligence.

Djerejian tries to wave away Syrian guilt by pointing to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, which states, “Syria has cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability, but the IC now assesses that Damascus is providing support to non-al-Qaeda-in-Iraq groups inside Iraq in a bid to increase Syrian influence.” That’s not much of an exoneration. Note the word “some”; Syria obviously has not cracked down on most Sunni extremist groups. And although the NIE says that Bashar Assad is not “providing support” to al Qaeda in Iraq (what’s the definition of “support”?), it is silent on whether the Syrian strongman is looking the other way as would-be suicide bombers transit his soil.

Djerejian naively imagines that the Damascus regime would have nothing to do with such Islamic radicals, since in 1982 Bashar’s father crushed an Islamist uprising in the Syrian city of Hama. This is, of course, the same mistake made by those who imagine that, evidence to the contrary, Saddam Hussein would never have made common cause with Islamic radicals. In fact, both the Baathist regime in Baghdad in its later years, and now the Baathist regime in Damascus increasingly rely on Islamic imagery to cement their authority.

For all Assad’s claims that he doesn’t want to allow an Islamic takeover of Syria, the evidence is overwhelming that he is deeply complicit with Islamic radicals operating against neighboring states. Damascus, after all, is the headquarters of Hamas, led by Sunni radical Khalid Meshal. Damascus has also established a very close alliance with the Shiite radical regime in Tehran. Syria, in fact, acts as principal middleman between Iran and the Shiite radicals of Hizballah in Lebanon. Imagine that—a supposedly secular Baathist regime led by Alawites (a Shiite sect) making common cause with both Sunni and Shiite radicals. Since all of this is common knowledge, the only surprise here is that Djerejian is surprised.

Given Djerejian’s stubborn unwillingness to grasp the fact that Syria has been waging war on the U.S. and our allies (viz., Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and, in the past, Turkey), correspondingly he is agape at the arguments made by Lieberman, Gerson, and me to get tough with the Damascus regime. I suggested in contentions, for instance, that we might use our airpower to close Damascus airport until Assad cuts off the flow of foreign fighters, who mostly travel to Iraq through that same airport. Writes Djerejian, with heavy-handed irony: “A peachy idea! Save that using airpower against a sovereign nation’s airport is an act of war, you know.”

So is providing support to terrorist groups that are operating in another nation’s sovereign territory. Our inexplicable failure to respond accordingly does not change the fact that Syria (and Iran) is waging war on us. To speak bluntly about these matters does not constitute, as Djerejian huffily has it, “ignorance and adventurism.” It is no more than an acknowledgment of reality.



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