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Friday, December 11

John Bolton and the American descent into primitivism

"To such follies does the obsession with regime change lead."

In Syria the West Embraces Sectarianism
By Alexander Mercouris
December 10, 2015
One of the most troubling developments in the Syrian crisis is the West’s embrace of religious sectarianism.
The argument goes as follows: in order to defeat the Islamic State the West has to overthrow Syria's President Assad because as an Alawite he is unacceptable to Syria's Sunni majority who supposedly prefer the Sunni Islamic State to him.
This argument has recently been taken further by John Bolton — a former U.S. ambassador to the UN — who is actually calling for the partition of Syria and Iraq on sectarian lines, with a "Sunni-stan" replacing the Islamic State/Daesh.
I'm interrupting Mr Mercouris to point out that John Bolton is not the first American public figure to make such a suggestion. From Henry Kissinger's op-ed in October for the Wall Street Journal (A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse):
The reconquered territories [taken back from Islamic State, Nusra,, etc.] should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
Dr Kissinger is a proponent of realpolitik but this isn't realpolitik, this is monkey business. Messrs Kissinger and Bolton are surprising entrants in America's race back to the trees.  

John Bolton is a graduate of Yale Law School. He was once an intelligent man in addition to a well-educated one. But intelligence and the benefits of good education can degenerate over time if one keeps abusing them to serve political or policy ends. Looks as if this happened to John Bolton. 

The dominant assumption is that such people simply sell out. Only at first. Over time the intellect corrodes.

One consequence in the United States is a descent into primitivism. This has been masked by the high value Americans came to place on protecting diversity. It is now a national obsession, stoked by corporations public and private that must somehow ride herd on a very diverse workforce, 

A cynic would say Mr Bolton is just trying to placate Gulf potentates who want to control Syria. I'd say his advice shows he's no longer capable of thinking in the highly abstract terms required to vigorously defend principles on which American government was founded.

Ironically Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, is a far better defender of the principles than many Americans. Yet one doesn't have to be an ace at abstract reasoning to deflate Mr Bolton's argument; simply propose that America be partitioned into a Lutheranistan and Catholicistan and Whiteistan and Blackistan and -- 

To return to Alexander Mercouris, who served for 12 years in the Royal Courts of Justice in London as a lawyer specializing in human rights and constitutional law:

Bolton at least has the honesty to admit that this is in part a geopolitical play. However is the premise behind the argument as couched by its more moderate advocates even true?

The one opinion poll carried out in Iraq and Syria suggests not.

It found little difference in political attitudes between Sunnis and Shias. It found that both Sunnis and Shias overwhelmingly want their countries to remain united.

It shows strong support in Syria for President Assad and very slight support for the Islamic State — many of whose fighters come from abroad — in both Iraq and Syria.

In Iraq only 5% of the population has a positive view of the Islamic State/Daesh.

In Syria that rises to 21%, a figure that almost certainly overstates its support. A better reflection of its actual support is its core support, which is just 7%.

This whole idea that the best way to fight the Sunni sectarianism of the Islamic State is by embracing Sunni sectarianism is very alarming. One wonders whether those who call for it really understand what they are calling for?

It is a repudiation of Western values. The West claims to stand for freedom, democracy and secularism. It mistakenly embraced the Arab Spring on that basis. Now it seems the West is prepared to embrace the opposite.

It tries to solve the problem of the Islamic State by creating something — a sectarian Sunni state — that looks almost as dangerous.

It grossly misrepresents the nature of the Syrian government, treating it as if it were a sectarian entity when it is in fact a secular one.

This constant harping on the fact that President Assad comes from an Alawite family ignores the fact the government he leads is not sectarian but Arab nationalist and secular.

President Assad is married to a Sunni, most of his ministers are Sunni, as are most officials and diplomats who serve his government.

So are most of the army's officers and most of its soldiers. Claims that most of the Sunni officers and soldiers defected when the war began and that the army is now largely Alawite are unverified and almost certainly untrue.

[Pundita note: One report states that the Syrian Army is presently 80 percent Sunni, which makes sense given the large number of Alawite troops killed during the past 4+ years]

It is not President Assad who is the violent religious sectarian. It is his opponents.

It is impossible to avoid the feeling that this latest argument — that President Assad has to be overthrown to persuade Syria's Sunni to fight the Islamic State — is not really an argument at all but a rationalisation to justify the Western obsession with overthrowing him.

Overthrowing the man who leads the government whose army is actually fighting the Islamic State hardly seems the best way to fight it.

Embracing Sunni sectarianism to defeat the Islamic State looks not only unworkable — it assumes Sunni sectarians are prepared to ally themselves with the West so the West can defeat other Sunni sectarians — but seems calculated to do the opposite of what the West says it wants by entrenching Sunni sectarianism and jihadism in Syria.

To such follies does the obsession with regime change lead.


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