Why the U.S. Still Can’t Ignore the Crisis in Syria

March 13 2019

Both Presidents Obama and Trump have warmed to the idea of American disengagement from the Middle East, an option that seems to have no small degree of public support. In an interview with Robert Nicholson, Frederic Hof argues that the Syrian civil war demonstrates precisely why such a policy is unfeasible:

If Syria followed Las Vegas rules—what happens there stays there—withdrawal from the Middle East might be a realistic [proposition]. But nothing that’s happened there has stayed inside the country. Friends and allies of the U.S. have been flooded with refugees. A 2015 mass migratory crisis—60 percent Syrian—washed over Western Europe and changed politics there in ways Russian President Vladimir Putin applauded.

Mass civilian homicide and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime may have set new standards for ensuring the survival of brutal regimes around the world. And the U.S. intelligence community believes that Islamic State and al-Qaeda—both beneficiaries of Bashar al-Assad’s misrule—present security threats to the American homeland, as do Assad’s supporters Iran and Hizballah.

To Nicholson’s question about the often heard but highly debatable claim that Assad is the great protector of Syrian Christians, Hof responds:

Many Syrian Christians—including some of my closest Syrian friends—continue to support the Assad regime. Do they support mass murder? No. Do they support detention facilities featuring Nazi-like methods? No. Do they support starvation and medical deprivation sieges? No. Do they support chronic incompetence and pervasive corruption? No. But here is the key question: have they seen an attractive alternative to Assad? No.

Some regional powers took advantage of an uprising that was initially entirely non-sectarian and pro-Syria to support Islamists; these regional powers wanted stooges and employees. They ended up helping Assad enormously by all but erasing respectable alternatives to his rule, by helping Assad militarize the conflict, and by helping the dregs of Syrian society become the key actors on both sides. Assad has been the big beneficiary. His behavior has contradicted every element of the Christian Gospel. But it is understandable that many Syrian Christians, fearing jihadist alternatives, have continued to back the devil they know.

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Read more at Providence

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Middle East Christianity, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

Maintaining Security Cooperation with the PA Shouldn’t Require Ignoring Its Support for Terror

In accordance with legislation passed last year, the Israeli government has begun to deduct from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) an amount proportional to what the PA pays to terrorists and their families. Last year, a similar law went into effect in the U.S., suspending all payments to the PA so long as it continues its “pay-for-slay” policy. The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, has retaliated by refusing to accept any tax revenue collected by Israel—raising concerns that the PA will become insolvent and collapse—while insisting that payments to terrorists and their families are sacrosanct. To Yossi Kuperwasser, Abbas’s behavior amounts to mere extortion—which has already worked on the Europeans to the tune of 35 million euros. He urges Israel and the U.S. not to submit:

Abbas [believes] that influential Israeli and European circles, including the security establishment, view strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and certainly preventing its collapse, as being in Israel and Europe’s best interests. They will therefore give in to the pressure he exerts through the creation of an artificial economic crisis. . . .

[T]he PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that . . . the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them. . . . If paying wages to terrorists (including the many terrorists whose attacks took place after the Oslo Accords were in force) is the raison d’être for the PA’s establishment, as Abbas seems to be saying, . . . one cannot help asking whether Israel has to insist on maintaining the PA’s existence at any price.

True, Israel cooperates on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. . . . The short-term benefits Israel gains from this security cooperation, [however], are of less value than the benefits enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long-term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, the promotion of terror, and the political struggle against Israel carried out by the PA. Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day to day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion.

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More about: Israeli Security, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror