Joshua Landis is a leading opponent of U.S. intervention in Syria. Last week we did a post faulting NPR’s Melissa Block for bringing up Landis’s marriage to an Alawite woman during an interview with him and Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. We argued that if Landis’s personal connections are fair game, then so are neoconservatives’ connections to Israel, which are never discussed in the mainstream media. Landis posted much of the following on Facebook, and sent the postscript to us. –Editor.
The correct answer to this question is that the ideas are what are important and the background and personal connections of the proponent are not important. If the ideas and argument make sense, they will persuade the majority and win out.
I believe America’s national interest should compel us to stay out. Any rational assessment of the Syria problem suggests that there is not an American solution. It is an intractable problem of basic national identity and a question of who should rule in Syria. The US has tried to decide these issues for two Middle East countries – Iraq and Afghanistan – without good results.
But, as we all know, it is important to know the background of those arguing and what informs their opinions. I find it instructive to know that Elliot Abrams is related to right wing Israelis. I am sure people are interested to know that I am married to an Alawite. I don’t hide it. I get emails everyday from people who tell me that because I am married to an Alawite, I should not talk about this subject, but most of them are married to Sunnis, I would imagine.
Of course, my being married to an Alawite has made me think long and hard about US intervention. I am aware that if the US destroys the Syrian military and drives for a total Sunni win, as they did in Iraq, where they gave the win to the Shiites, it could lead to the ethnic cleansing of the Alawites, which I think would be a bad thing. Bad for my relatives, bad for Alawites, in general, bad for Syria as a whole, and certainly bad for America, because it would destabilize the Middle East. The US has already participated indirectly in ethnic cleansing in the Middle East a few times before and it has cost America a great deal. We helped the Jews in Israel get a state in 1948, which led to the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians. That displacement of the Palestinians destabilized the region for 5 decades and involved us in a series of wars and brought terrorism to the US with Sirhan Sirhan and the like. Even Bin Laden explained that the first time he thought about bombing the World Trade Center was when he watched US F15s and F16s bombing Beirut in 1982.
In Iraq, we are also responsible for the marginalization of the Sunnis from power. This is why they are so radicalized and joining al-Qaida and other militarnt organizations.
If the US tries to enter into Syria, we will surely screw it up and end up paying a high price. We have proven that we don’t understand the Middle East and cannot fix the national problems of its peoples.
The US can help Syria by supporting others, such as the Gulf Countries and Turkey to take the lead in helping Syria. They have much more direct interests in Syria and a better chance of helping.
I was against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was accused of being a Saddam Hussein sympathizer. Of course, I knew very well what a tyrant Saddam was, but I thought the US would not gain anything by invading. I think I was correct then, as well.
I am not an Assad supporter or sympathizer. I have always known how brutal the regime was. After all, my first year living in Syria was in 1981-82 as a Fulbright student, when Assad carried out the Hama massacre. I traveled to Hama two weeks after it was over and drove around the city and saw the destruction. I still didn’t believe the US should bomb or intervene. Syria has very deep problems on many levels. We should offer aid and help the regional powers and world powers mobilize to help, but we should not bomb or invade. It is bad for America and would probably only further hurt Syrians.
The fact that Tabler works for WINEP, a pro-Israel think-tank is also good to know. It is natural for Israelis to want the US to clean up Syria, particularly when it comes to chemical weapons. Israel is worried about Syria becoming a hotbed of al-Qaida radicals and salafist militias. It is also worried about CW. Why wouldn’t they want the US to clean up Dodge? Of course it would be better for Israel to have the US do the job. That doesn’t mean that it is good for the US.
But Tabler sincerely believes that the US can fix Syria. He does not make these arguments because he is paid by WINEP. His ideas are his. He knows a lot about Syria. He is articulate and a capable spokesperson. I happen to think that his arguments are not persuasive and would not work out the way he suggests.
In short, it is good to know about the background of the people who put forward political arguments and their connections, but ultimately, we have to judge their arguments on the merits. After all, how does one learn about a region and its people if he has not lived there, interacted with people, and become as close to the situation as he can?
The fact that I have been traveling to Syria for over 30 years as an adult, helps me gain perspective on the people and the country. I lived in Lebanon for eight years, two of which were during the civil war. That has given me some perspective on sectarian civil wars and how intractable they are.
Should the rebel armies eventually defeat the Alawite-led, Syrian Army, and attack the villages of the Alawites, killing some and driving the remainder into Lebanon, I will not call for the US to bomb the Sunni militias. If al-Nusra gains a strong foothold in Syria, I will decry the use of drones to kill Salafist Syrians. Only Syrians can find a solution to their own conflicts.
P.S. Melissa Block and her producer Carol Klinger – just got the voice of an Alawite woman from Latakia on NPR.
I helped put her in touch with a friend, whose sister speaks – Reem. The other voice is of a woman leader of the revolution.
So Melissa Block did get an Alawite voice on NPR, much to her credit. The testimony of the two women demonstrates how their different world views are and how intractable the situation in Syria is.