Off the Fence
US, UK Pledge Support for Syrian Rebels
Amidst Increased Sectarian Warfare
by Dan Ehrlich

So, the fence sitting is over. The special relationship twins (UK and USA) are making their move in backing Syrian rebels with dollars, pounds and weapons. Yes, weapons...It's naive to think that weapons won't be bought or bartered for with western aid.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague makes an intelligent case for such action: To insure a successor to the Assad regime is democratic and civilized.
This is the standard political cure-all for western sponsored military involvements, a nice soundbite friendly rationale that may eventually come back to haunt the West.

A main reason Bashar al-Assad will hang on to power as long as possible is knowing what will be in store for his minority Alawite clan when he and his military lose power.

In this, Syria is similar to other Arab dictatorships such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Libya under Gaddafi, where minorities held power by integrating their own clansmen into the government and military.

His Alawites will fight on to preserve the regime because they are fighting for their lives, and in this respect can be compared to the regime's main scapegoat Israel for whom there is no second place in any war with its Arab neighbours.

But, Assad doesn't have to look any further than Lebanon to see the possible shape of his country without him. Lebanon was once a wealthy Christian Arab dominated nation that the Assad family had long coveted as part of a greater historical Syria.

The regime then supported masses of Palestinian refugees fleeing to Lebanon after the 1970 Black September defeat in Jordan. This wave of immigration set in motion forces that resulted in a long civil war and the effective cantonization of Lebanon between rival Muslim and Christian clans.

A similar fate awaits Syria if and when Assad falls. The resulting chaos will be replaced by tribal conflict and more bloodshed. The civilized democratic voices in Syria that Hague wants to embolden, will more than likely be drowned out by the Islamist shouts and gunfire.

But this is nothing new to the West. From the Russian revolution to Afghanistan and the current Arab uprisings, attempts at installing democratic regimes have initially failed. It's up to the populations of such nations to eventually go democratic if they so choose.

The Islamist parties winning power in some of the Arab Spring nations will have to produce better lives for their people or they may find they're subjects of further pro democracy revolts.

In the past the Assad family has maintained power by first preserving the secular nature of largely Sunni Syria and second, by gradually limiting civil liberties in the name of national security, using the presence of Israel as its version of the Cold War.

It's this heavy-handed and often violent approach to civil rights that was the flashpoint for civil war here. Using Israel and America as scapegoats was no longer valid among the country's diverse population. They realized the real problem was the Assad Regime.

And it is this diversity, which is so highly prized in the West, that may become Syria's worst nightmare since the only unifying force has been the Assad Regime. Without unity there may be endless hostilities. But now the US and UK will later be able to say: "We did all we could."

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