For years the United States has been pilloried for endless meddling in the Middle East. But now that the Obama administration has been more reticent to get involved, the critique has flipped and staying out is painted as the wrong choice.
Take this headline in the Christian Science Monitor: “Support for jihadists in Syria swells as US backing of rebels falls short.” Though less dramatic than the headline, the article suggests there is a causal relationship, with a “local Aleppo commander” asserting current US policy “has opened the doors for jihadist Islam, not for moderates.”
The argument about Syria is something like this: too few US weapons prolongs the war, allowing Assad to survive for longer. A longer war allows jihadists to flourish in Syria.
As I have written before, I am skeptical of deep US involvement in Syria. I just do not hear supporters of greater military intervention answering the hard questions of how we know it would work out for the best. And given that the dominant meme in the Middle East is about an overbearing American colossus, I am not sure why Washington should be looking for more fuel to feed that fire. It has not worked out so well in the recent past (see al-Qaeda, Iraq, Afghanistan).
Moreover, we could quickly hear a different narrative: anti-US extremists flooded Syria because the post-Assad regime came to power on the back of the United States. Or, chaotic Syria, perhaps with sectarian bloodletting, as a failed state in the heart of the Middle East is fertile ground for extremist training and development. I could be convinced otherwise, but someone is going to have to make – not simply assert – a strong case.
There are, after all, reasons why Syria would be an attractive battleground even if the United States did not exist. A minority regime rules over a Sunni majority. That minority regime is in trouble. Syria has a great geographic location for serving as base for influencing and interfering in other countries.
Extremists surely see this as an opportunity after decades of hostile, repressive rule in Damascus. US policy be damned, I expect they would have given it a go.
If the United States had a pathway to a stable, post-Assad order, maybe that would help. I don’t see it, at least not yet. Do you?