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May 8, 2013

Syrian wake-up

http://www.jewishjournal.com/rob_eshman/article/syrian_wake_up

A torn picture of Syria's President Bashar Assad on a government building in Raqqa province, east Syria, on May 8. Photo by Hamid Khatib/Reuters

A torn picture of Syria's President Bashar Assad on a government building in Raqqa province, east Syria, on May 8. Photo by Hamid Khatib/Reuters

Yes, America, we’ve heard: You’re war-weary.

It’s at least something our divided country can agree upon: Americans across party lines oppose sending troops, weapons or air support to the rebel fighters in Syria. “War-weary Nation Wary of Syria,” the centrist Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote. “We’re war-weary,” echoed the libertarian magazine Reason. “Americans are war-weary,” Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch said on Fox News. “War Weary: Poll Shows Little Support for Syria Intervention,” a Huffington Post headline screamed.

But guess what, America: Whether you’re weary, ready or not, you’re in this thing.  

Last Friday and Sunday, Israel carried out airstrikes that caused an L.A.-sized earthquake in Damascus. 

Friends don’t let friends launch surprise missile strikes, and Israel planned the Syrian attack with American knowledge, if not coordination, as a way to thwart the Triple Entente of Syria-Iran-Hezbollah. 

And that’s the way it is with conflicts in the Middle East. They’re not like spring colds that eventually just go away on their own. No, these things fester, grow more complex, retreat, then roar back far worse. that’s not a cold, that’s syphilis. 

Those of us who called for President Barack Obama to take firm measures two years ago to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, when the body counts were low and the violence rising, can now say, “See, the options have only gotten worse, the risks greater, the casualty and refugee counts far higher, and the power plays more complex.”

Iran rushed in to fill the vacuum created by a lack of American resolve. The mullahs are using the chaos to strengthen Hezbollah in Lebanon. That’s what drew Israel’s preemptive strike.  

“Iran has only one major diplomatic success, and that’s Syria,” former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said at an Israeli Policy Forum discussion in New York last week. “The only Arab country that goes with Iran is Syria, meaning Assad. The fall of the Assad regime [will be] a huge blow to Iran. I’m not saying the fall of Assad will bring members of the Zionist Congress to rule Syria. They may all be bad guys. But if you want to deal a blow to Iran, this is a huge blow.”

So Israel is now drawn into Syria as part of its larger war against Iranian nuclear ambitions. 

“Hezbollah and Iran are working without any inhibitions in Syria,” said Meridor, who served as minister of intelligence and atomic energy. “They put all their hopes on the Assad regime. This is the unholy triangle: Assad, Hezbollah, Iran.” 

And just because Obama hasn’t sent weapons doesn’t mean the Saudis and other Sunni powers haven’t. Those arms have gone to buttress the more radically Islamist elements, both homegrown and foreign-supplied. Those were few in number when Syria’s Arab Spring began. Now they’re more formidable.

So what should we do? Or, rather, what should we urge our president to do?

At the Milken Global Conference last week, a leader of the Syrian opposition showed up to make a compelling case for the right kind of American intervention. 

Najib Ghadbian, currently a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, has been integral to the Damascus Spring and other milestones along the path to Assad’s eventual, inevitable demise. Now, the unassuming academic presents a business card that lists him as Representative to the United States National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. 

Ghadbian sits on the coalition’s 70-member “mini-parliament.” He described how the Syrian opposition has formed a government-in-waiting with ministries, economists and factional representatives. 

In front of an American audience, in Beverly Hills, the question he had to answer 10 different ways was whether Syria is doomed to become a nest of radical Islam.

“It’s first a concern for us,” he stressed. But Ghadbian said extremist elements make up less than 10 percent of the 160,000-strong Free Syrian Army. 

“We don’t want Syria to be a failed state or an extremist one,” he said. “The way to make sure is to support moderate forces.”

Syrians once supported the radical, Iranian-backed Hezbollah in its attacks against Israel, he said. But now that the Iranian regime is supplying the Syrian army with military equipment, they changed their minds.

“The most hated country in Syria today is Iran,” Ghadbian said. “It’s not Israel; it’s not the U.S., because [Iran is] directly involved and implicated in the killing.”

I asked Ghadbian what he would ask Obama to do tomorrow if he had the president’s ear. 

“Be a leader,” he shot back. “Be a spokesperson for a free Syria. Like Vladimir Putin is for Assad.” 

The United States, which Ghadbian acknowledged has helped with relief efforts and nonlethal military aid, must now take a more active role, creating safe zones, presumably through force, and helping the opposition forces with intelligence and communication. 

“We don’t need boots on the ground; we need leadership,” Ghadbian said with the evident exasperation of someone who is, not surprisingly, truly war-weary.

 

You can see the video of Dr. Najiob Ghadbian here:

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

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