The gradual civil war enveloping Syria offers a useful example of all that is wrong with the Muslim world and the West's relationship with it. Syria is a state carved out of the Ottoman Empire on the whims of Mr. Sykes and Mr. Picot. The Caliphate had been abolished and a new State, Turkey, set on the path towards modernity. It seemed only natural to the Western intelligentsia that the Arabs and the various villayets might coalesce into something resembling a State. In their rash, victorious colonialism after World War I, the British and French either missed or ignored a crucial point: Nations may exist without states, but it is rare for a state to exist without a nation. Nations need not borders to thrive, whereas territorial sovereignty is the essence of statehood. In the updated borders of the Syrian Arab Republic there were now Sunnis and Shiites, Turks and Druze, Christians and Alawites, Armenians and Assyrians. A new State had been born for various peoples from numerous nations. Without a common bond to unite them, it transpired that through the whole course of war, mandate, and independent rule, nothing resembling a social contract or citizenship was ever developed. There was to be no attempt at government of the people, by the people, or for the people. Power politics above all else prevailed.
That a Sunni majority comprising 75% of the population has allowed itself to be ruled by a fractional tribe from the Alawite mountains is evidence of the total failure of the Sunni Arab order to come to terms with modernity. Had the Sunnis of Syria come together in the 1950s and put aside their power struggles; had they invested in a modern education for their children and freed their young brains from the yoke of the Koran; had they set out on the rehabilitating task of casting aside their most outdated traditions; and had all the tribes shared in the resources of their country without malice; then might they have built a lasting republic in their Levantine homeland.
As it has turned out, in this great modernizing task the Sunnis have failed spectacularly. As punishment, for the last 4 decades they have been trampled under the boot of the tyrannical Assads. More blasphemous still for the Sunnites, is their religiously shameful submission to the Alawites, a schematic nation of infidels according to their ideology. As this most recent civil war has dragged on, so the various nations of Syria have retrenched into communal tribalism, revealing the fragility of the Syrian state. Thus we see Sunni slaughter of Christians, Sunni slaughter of Alawites, and Alawite slaughtering of Sunnis. Think Lebanon during the eighties. Once rosy predictions (from the likes of Pelosi, Kerry, and Obama) of a reformist Assad the Younger have now certainly been extinguished forever. Slaughter is his last and only option. In the event that the Assads and the Alawites are overthrown from the capital, they will almost certainly regroup in their ancestral heartland near the coastal port of Latakia. All attempts at national reconciliation must fail, as the kleptoratic and brutal tradition of the Assads cannot be evened without a river of blood.
Is a democratic form of nationalism and citizenship even possible in that part of the world? Should the Alawite oligarchy fall to the majority Sunnites, let us not fool ourselves into believing that a modern democracy will arise in its wake. If the Sunnites prevail, then a Christian exodus en masse will almost certainly ensue, similar to the Assyrian Christian exodus from Iraq that has taken place ever since the United States invasion in 2003, where over 500,000 followers of an ancient sect of Christianity have fled the country under conditions of terror, robbery, murder, and fear. The demise of the Baathist political order in Syria is perhaps the inevitable outcome given the demographics, a decline as inevitable as the abolition of Sunnite rule in Iraq. Should we not then at least learn the lesson from our previous adventure? In Iraq, the downfall of the Sunnites was only precipitated by the force of American arms, countless billions in investment, and generational stockpiles of diplomatic "soft" power. The events in Syria lack the stabilizing counterweight of an altruistic superpower, and therefore we have every reason to assume that the Balkanization of Syria will be bloodier and messier than its neighbor to the east. If the revolutionary earthquakes should finally topple the House of Assad, will our policy be simply to let the Christians and Druze be slaughtered?
For 18 brutal months, this whole sorry tale has unfolded before the eyes of the world. The moment is frought with uncercainty. The Middle East is a tinder box, waiting for a match to ignite, and it is the unfortunate nature of man that throughout history we have always been fascinated by fire. Should history repeat itself, it will not only be Syrians who will be burned. Battle lines are being drawn, partisans are assessing strengths, and coalitions are being formed. Already we are seeing the Shiites of Iran and Lebanon backing Assad with words and arms, while the Saudis and Qataris are coordinating with their old Sunni brothers in Anbar to promote their preferred rebel Sunni groups to power. Jordan and Lebanon, precarious and fictitious states in their own right, have the most to fear from prolonged chaos and civil war. And of course there is the resurgent Islamic power of Turkey, which by way of proximity, history, stature, and demography, faces its first major test as the self-proclaimed leader of the Middle East and of Islam. In all countries, the Muslim Brotherhood and other theocratic establishments are on the ascendancy, while liberals, Christians, and other minorities doubt their futures in the ancestral homelands.
The awakening of the Islamic political order is provoking immense upheavals throughout a greater portion of the Earth. In Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Nigeria, and Syria the consequences of the shattering of the old guard have not yet bloomed in full. The Islamic theological establishment is cognizant of this revolution, and has in word, if not deed, declared war on all that is Western, Judeo-Christian and modern. The moment cries out for leadership, strength, and clarity. A figure of strength to calm the waters, and to steady the ship. Yet at this crucial moment, the American Ship of State is being captained by a disinterested and novice sailor, unsure of which direction to steer, and certainly unsure as to the uses of the rudder and sail. Our greatest Arab ally has been overthrown, one of our Ambassadors killed, and an evil tyranny in a crucial country allowed to murder and oppress with impunity. What is to account for the inaction of the great Western democracies as their co-civilizationists are being driven out en masse by Islamist radicals? Assad is a monster, but should we encourage his demise if it means the end of Christianity in the Middle East, the birthplace of that faith, and the ancient Mesopotamia of yore? All of these questions require deep thought, an understanding of history, and leadership of the first order. In this moment of ferment, where is the leader of the free world?It should be no surprise that a peace loving people like the Americans should at this point abhor the thought of involving ourselves in another war. Yet outside our prosperous and secure hemisphere rages a tempest of fear, rage, and uncertainty. The ideologies of hate are on the march. Islamism, like Statism and Communism are equally obnoxious to the principles of freedom. Should we not then at least offer a a vision of our own future upon which to stand and fight? As the world's most powerful country, the United States has an unequaled responsibility to the nations of the Earth to uphold those lofty ideals which command the allegiance of all classes, across all lands. The challenge for America, and indeed the whole free world, is whether we should defend these virtuous ideals from the Hobesian inclinations of man to violence and repression. The problem of the modernization and liberalization of the Middle East offers no easy solutions. We cannot hope to instill our will through brute force alone. But we must at the very least speak forcefully and proudly in favor of the lights of our civilization. That is the job of a leader, a uniter, and a President. What a tragedy for the world that the man currently at the pinnacle of power is so timid in championing this cause. If we cannot give voice to the natural stirrings of the human soul; if we cannot stand for liberty, equality, justice, tolerance, and mercy; and if we cannot explain to the world the simple beauty of the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the UN Charter, than all is lost. If the West does not know where it came from, it has no right to tell other nations where to go.