Why Not Syria?

There’s a very good question in and out of the Beltway these days and it relates to our policy ( or lack of a policy) toward Syria. It has now become obvious to many in this country that the United States decided to join NATO and bomb Libya to deter that government from killing its own people, but unlike our involvement in Libya the US has shown unremarkable restraint in Syria where there has been even greater repression against the popular uprising.

This unwillingness to use the same threat of force and eventual use of force to topple the Assad regime would likely bring a end to the terrorist pipeline from Iran to Hezzbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Syria, which has become another family dictatorship in the center of the Middle East, would signal another victory for the Arab Spring democratic movement sweeping the region.

So why the reluctance to do to Assad what is happening to Gaddafi? Part of the answer is military overstretch – too many military engagements that are costly and create the potential for strategic quagmire. Part of the answer also is that the US and NATO are concerned about creating the perception in the Arab world that the West is driving this democracy movement and that the West is a meddler in the internal affairs of those who support the aims of the Arab Spring.

But there is another part to this reluctance that is not getting enough play in the press and from administration officials. What is left unsaid is that there comes a time in a period of political instability when outside interests like the US and its NATO partners have to ask the question, will the fall of the Assad regime create such a power vacuum in the region, such governing chaos that it might be better to press for reform and slow change, rather than take the military step of pushing the Syrian leadership out of office?

Maintaining some modicum of stability in the Middle East is now the unspoken policy option discussed at the highest levels of the White House and in the NATO countries. Opting for stability over full scale democratic upheaval makes policy makers uneasy and certainly hypocritical, but the issue now in the Middle East is the end game of the Arab Spring. It could be the flowering of democracy, or at least a more open society, but it also could be a complete implosion of the region as dictatorial stability is replaced by the unknown and the uncertain.


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