Mark Steyn And Ed Morrissey Discuss Syrian Intervention
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EM: Joining me now, the one, the only, Mark Steyn, www.steynonline.com, and also at National Review. Welcome to the show, sir.
MS: Hey, good to be with you, Ed.
EM: It is great to be talking with you today. There is tremendous breaking news happening today. The White House has declared that a red line has been crossed in Syria. The rebels have been attacked by sarin gas, and that the U.S. is now going to be intervening by supplying some sort of military equipment to the rebels in Syria. Mark, what do you make of this, because I have my own theories about this.
MS: Well, I’m not in favor of intervening in Syria, simply because a polite explanation would be we don’t know who, in effect, we’re jumping in on behalf of. Since Benghazi, we really actually do know who we’re jumping in on behalf of, and that is we’re, in effect, we would be providing the firepower for people who are profoundly hostile to the interests of the United States of America. If ever there was a time for a good old Henry Kissinger-type cynicism, you remember Kissinger’s famous line on the Iran-Iraq war, it’s a shame they both can’t lose, in Syria, it’s a shame they both can’t lose, too. And I don’t think there’s anything, John McCain’s ludicrous photo opportunity a couple of weeks ago, where he said he was quite confident that he could tell the good guys from the bad guys, and the very guy sneaking into the room to have their photos taken with him were people who’d kidnapped, who’d been kidnapping people only a couple of days beforehand, testifies to how ridiculous that viewpoint is.
EM: Well, I am with you that. I have been saying this for quite some time that if you want to do an intervention in that particular region, you really have to go all in. You have to be on the Iraq model, even more so than the Afghanistan model. You need to have boots on the ground, and you need to keep them there, because neither side is particularly palatable here. And what you want to do is you want to protect what small force of moderates there might be, and allow them to build themselves up so that they can fight off the extremists from both sides. What we’re looking at for a model here is, and you mentioned this, the Libyan model, where we went in at 30,000 feet, and remember, originally this was a right to protect action in Libya. This is two years ago, a right, or excuse me, a responsibility to protect. They went in, and all they were supposed to do was just bomb the Libyan army so that they couldn’t attack Benghazi. That was actually the city they were trying to protect. But what we ended up doing is, between us and NATO, we ended up decapitating the Gaddafi regime. We sustained bombing for a long period of time, relatively long period of time, until Gaddafi collapsed. And what was left was chaos. And it’s still chaos in most of Libya. You’ve got, in Tripoli, the government doesn’t even run to the street in front of its own defense ministry. They couldn’t clear the street in front of its own defense ministry, because the militias were lining up there to pressure the government to adopt policies that were favorable to the militias. And so what you’re going to wind up with here in Syria is the same thing only, Mark, you also now have the Russians, because the Russians weren’t supporting Gaddafi, but they are supporting Assad.
MS: Yeah, exactly. In Libya, the West was knocking off its own client, which is what Gaddafi had been for the last decade. So we were knocking off our guy, in effect. In this case, we’re knocking off the Russian’s guy, and they aren’t going to stand, and in fact, the Iranians’ guy, and they’re not going to stand idly by on that. But there’s a bigger point here, Ed, which is something that you know, if you’re basically a 19th Century imperialist, well past his sell-by date like me, it is tough accepting, and that is the United States is not in the business of imperialism. And it’s very easy to say oh, well, there’s Group A and there’s Group B, and we’re going to sell guns to Group B, and they’ll kill everyone in Group A. It’s not in your interest unless the society that they create is also going to be in your interest. In Afghanistan, for example, the last Christian church has been razed to the ground under, effectively, an American vice regal administration. There’s been religious cleansing in Iraq. The Christian population has been forced to flee under an American vice regal administration. This ought to actually shame any American. The idea that Americans are expending blood and treasure in setting up Shariah states around the world is perfectly ridiculous. So it’s not a question of whether you’re prepared to lend these guys guns, but whether you also want to send people in to teach them how to be town clerks, and teach them how to be chief justice, and teach them how to run a proper society, because if you’re not, you’re just wasting your time. If you’re just saying there’s Group A, there’s Group B, then why not just say may the most bloodthirsty killers win, and we’ll deal with whoever emerges on top of that?
EM: And what’s most frustrating about this is I think that you had an opportunity here for the Arab world to understand that you had two extremes that were going after each other, the Sunni extremists, the Shiite extremists. Hezbollah was going up against al Qaeda. And eventually, that would produce a fed-up middle that would, where you’d have a moderate group that would rise in reaction to that. You are never going to have that as long as the West keeps intervening on behalf of one or the other. And it’s suicidal to…
MS: Yeah, and I think that’s a very good point, and I think that’s particularly true in Syria where there’s a relatively sophisticated middle class that is not foaming crazy on either side or the other. I mean, in Libya, for example, the reality of the situation was that the only organized opposition to Gaddafi, particularly in recent years, came from hard-core Islamic imperialism. And to loose that upon the region was never in America’s interest. Syria, I think, the best thing you could do is actually just wait for…the middle class, by the way, hasn’t got, I mean, Russia in the end will get Assad out if they can. But the middle class in Syria is there to stay, and doesn’t want to be forced out like it was in Iran, and I think either of those options, just sort of benign neglect would have been better than actually what we’re going to be doing there now.
EM: Exactly, even beyond the point of the fact that we’re actually going to be arming the rebels who are basically, the most effective parts of the rebellion, are the ones who we’re already at war with, like Jabhat al-Nusra, which is an al-Qaeda affiliate.
MS: Yeah. That’s right. I mean, basically, the guys that McCain is hot to help are al Qaeda subsidiaries. They already control, as you say, the most effective opposition in Syria, and the ones who already explicitly control towns and all the rest of it, are al Qaeda affiliates, subsidiaries. They’ve set up, they use all the same lingo that al Qaeda does. I forget the term of it, but they’ve got a term for a united emirate, as al Qaeda like to call it, of Syria, and Lebanon, and Iraq. And why that is in, in other words, why the guys we’ve just spent a decade fighting in Iraq are the fellows we wish to empower in Syria, this is just insane. The lack of strategic clarity in the world’s superpower, is actually disgusting. And the idea that the Pentagon will now be giving weaponry to the same fellows we spent a decade trying to push back in the Sunni Triangle, is absolutely preposterous.
EM: Bill Clinton earlier this week appeared with Senator John McCain and publicly, supposedly split with the Obama administration. For me, and I wrote about this, this morning, to me, this is sort of Kabuki theatre, and when you’ve got the Obama administration appointing Samantha Power, interventionist Samantha Power, to the U.N., and promoting Susan rice to National Security Advisor. I suspect that they sent Bill Clinton out there to help boost the idea of intervention, because the polling on this is really poor. And I mean, we’ve got about a minute left, Mark. Do you think that was Kabuki theatre? Or do you think that Bill Clinton pushed Obama into doing this?
MS: Well, no, because I’m not even sure Bill Clinton would have done this. You know, Bill Clinton belonged to that tiny, little moment of ineffectual humanitarian warmongering between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, when he could do what he did in the Balkans, for example, simply because there was no…the fact he could do it because there was no perceived interest of the United States in doing it, so he could go and fight ineffectual air wars in Kosovo, and drop bombs on all the wrong buildings in Serbia, and nobody minded, because the United States was perceived as having no real interest there.
EM: Mark Steyn, thank you very much for being with us, www.steynonline.com.
End of interview.