With recent developments in Syria, the conversation now once again turns to regime change. While President Trump has in the past expressed distaste for it, neocons and neoliberals alike have been incessant in their advocacy, and now their cries rise once again to the forefront of American political discourse. Hillary Clinton demands a no fly zone (the same cudgel with which she struck down Muammar Gadhafi) and McCain and Graham ask for a ground invasion to support those they would depict as heroic rebels. Their histrionics betray the desperate urgency of lovers once spurned, for if it were not for the then recent debacle in Libya, 2013 would have seen the consummation of their sanguinary lust. It is then incumbent upon us to examine the Syrian situation soberly, and weigh the respective merits of the paths which lie before us.
First, we must examine the actions which have led us to this point. Obama, as we will recall, began to fund and arm “moderate rebels” from the very outset of the Syrian war, and these rebels now represent a significant power in Syria. Most non-interventionists will consider that this was a mistake (for a panoply of reasons) but we have to operate in the world in which we live, not in the one we wish we had. And in that world, there are tens of thousands of heavily armed Muslims in Syria who are aligned to the western powers solely in an association of convenience. We can regret this, just as we can regret that Assad was prevented from restoring civil order in 2011. But regret will not change the unalterable fact that Obama’s America has equipped and trained a sizable armed force whose very raison d'etre is Islamic revolution. Regret will likewise not prevent the inevitable turn these people will take against the West if they are disavowed. There is already an obvious overlap between western backed “moderate” and independent “radical” rebel groups, but at the moment US backed forces largely tow the American line in exchange for American support. So what happens if America cuts ties, gives backing to Assad, and helps him crush his opposition (likely the preferred option of most readers)?
A.)The “moderates” and “radicals” who will now be, for all intents and purposes, united into a single front, will flee the country. They will still be numerous, they will still be well armed, and they will be united in their hatred for the West. Denied of victory in Syria, they will turn their Jihad on Europe (which Turkey will happily facilitate) and the West's current terrorism problem will seem wonderfully placid by comparison. Whilst the dead of Saint Petersburg can attest that Russia shall not emerge unscathed, it is inevitable that the liberal West, already teeming with a burgeoning refugee population, will bear the brunt of any future jihad. Spendius and Mathos will live again, and Europe is in no position to produce a Hamlicar.
B.) Assad will not take back any of the refugees who have fled his country. Assad considers these people undesirables, because by and large they are. After the experience of civil war, he would never willingly allow a mass influx of dissidents. Nor would the guilty emigrants dare to test his mercy if by some strange chance he did offer it. Few are naïve enough to believe that all of the Syrian “refugees” were ever going to voluntarily return to Syria (or anywhere else, for that matter), but at least some portion might if Assad were out of the picture. A still greater portion would if the European governments were vigilant in coercing their repatriation (perhaps a vain hope). But if Assad is left in power in Syria, even in a peaceful and stable Syria, this will be politically impossible.
So what if the McCains and Clintons of the world get their way, and the “moderates” (buoyed by American blood and treasure) succeed in overthrowing Assad? We’d doubtless have yet another disaster on our hands. It would be Libya compounded, a hotbed and launching point for jihad (more so than it already is). The Christians and other religious minorities would be wiped out, the victorious rebels would continue their infighting on a larger scale, and instability would discourage repatriation (and perhaps even encourage continued migration). An undesirable state of affairs to say the least. But at least in this case a large portion (maybe even a majority) of militants stay in Syria to continue military and political Jihad there, rather than in the West. And some (probably a demographically negligible amount of) refugees might repatriate.
So, as far as we can observe, Syria is an impasse without a true solution. Years of stupid, or perhaps intentionally anti-American policy have led us to yet another misanthropic blood reckoning.
Perhaps the least disastrous path before us then, is an amoral compromise, where the Alawite dictatorship is left in power, but Assad is compelled to step down as its figurehead. The “moderate” rebels would then be brought into the government in a power sharing agreement. Then at least, some number of refugees might repatriate, the rebels would be somewhat (though far from entirely) mollified (and occupied) by the awful prospect and still more awful exercise of their new political responsibilities, and the weakened Alawite power structure could offer some small protection for Christians and other religious minorities. Syria, of course, would be left a devastated hellscape, and without a functioning and united government would remain as such for decades. Sporadic violence would of course be inevitable, and at any moment, some stupid incident might lead to the recommencement of full scale civil war. This seems the best path left before us.
One can only hope that such an outcome would, in some small measure, satisfy our political establishment’s Homeric bloodlust.