Rand Paul’s Odd Dichotomy on Syria
On today’s MTP Senator Paul said the following:
I see Assad, who has protected Christians for a number of decades, and then I see the Islamic rebels on the other side who have been attacking Christians. I see Al Qaeda on one side, the side we would go into support, and I see it to be murky. And I don’t see a clear-cut American interest. I don’t see either party that is victorious, if either party is victorious, being an American ally.
On the one hand, I agree with Senator Paul that we should avoid intervention in Syria and, further, I concur that the situation is murky at best and that regardless of what emerges from the wreckage of the civil war that it is unlikely a clear US ally will be in power.
Having said that, to paint Assad as a defender of Christians in the contrast to Islamic rebels is about a gross an oversimplification as one can make. Or, at least, to make the violence somehow into a Christian v. Islam issue is an incorrect description. And, further, it strikes me as deceptive to make it sounds like only the rebels are adherents to Islam, since the regime is as well. More to the point, the country is fundamentally an Islamic country, riven though it is with internal fissure within the broader Muslim context.
The general make-up of Syria’s ethno-religious divisions are as follows (via Seth Kaplan):
The country’s 19 million people are divided into Sunni Arabs (65 percent), Alawis (12 percent), Christians (10 percent), Kurds (9 percent), Druze (3 percent), Bedouin, Ismailis, Turcomans, Circassians, and Assyrians. This demographic mosaic is further complicated by divisions within many of these groups. The Christians, for example, are divided into eleven main sects, including the Greek Orthodox, Melkite, Syrian, Maronite, Chaldean, Armenian, and Catholic denominations. The Sunni Arabs range from the highly pious to the very secular and are divided between an urban elite and the rural masses that traditionally have had diverging political loyalties. Like many countries in the Middle East, the sharpest divide may not so much be religious or ethnic as it is ideological and existential, pitting Muslims who want to align politics with religion against those who wish to keep them apart. Of all the groups, the Kurds and the Sunni Islamists are the greatest threats to the Syrian state because their political movements have the cohesion, established agendas, outside support, and sense of grievance to drive them to challenge central authority.
As such, the Christian minority is not a key player, nor is Assad motivated by protection of minority groups. I fully understand that Christians in Syria face a grave threat from some Islamist groups, but that doesn’t make the Assad regime pro-Christian.
Quite frankly, Paul sounds like a lot of American politicians who discuss the region, i.e., they really have no idea as to the complexities of ethno-religious conflict in the region. Having said that, I will give Rand credit: even given his seeming scant understanding, it leads him to oppose military adventurism rather than fueling it.
I suppose the thing that I find the most troublesome, beyond just the clear lack of any nuanced understanding of the situation, is that we do not need American politicians trying to reduce any complex foreign policy issue to one of Christians v. Muslims. No good can come from such statements. Paul didn’t have to go there, he could have stuck with the murkiness and the national interest question and come across as more reasonable on the subject.