More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the country’s brutal and protracted civil war. But one leading conservative voice on the Middle East, writing in National Review on Friday, has a novel view of America’s role in stopping the conflict: we should prolong it. Specifically, we should prolong it by providing support to the murderous dictator Bashar al-Assad who launched the war by gunning down non-violent protesters in the streets for months.
Daniel Pipes’ basic argument is that the influx of jihadis into rebel ranks means that the United States shouldn’t want either side to win definitively. Since it looks like Assad is losing, we should help him out until a bloody stalemate returns — a suggestion he proposes “as a humanitarian”:
I am changing my policy recommendation from neutrality to something that causes me, as a humanitarian and decades-long foe of the Assad dynasty, to pause before writing: Western governments should support the malign dictatorship of Bashar Assad.
Here is my logic for this reluctant suggestion: Evil forces pose less danger to us when they make war on each other. This (1) keeps them focused locally and (2) prevents either one from emerging victorious (and thereby posing a yet-greater danger). Western powers should guide enemies to stalemate by helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong the conflict.
Pipes’ “humanitarian” suggestion comes on the heels of a Human Rights Watch report that documents a systematic pattern of Assad’s forces using unguided dumb bombs on civilian population centers. After disputed reports that the Islamic extremist al-Nusra Front rebels had “merged” with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the mainstream Free Syrian Army distanced itself from jihadism, saying “We don’t support the ideology of al-Nusra. … There has never been and there will never be a decision at the command level to coordinate with al-Nusra.”
Recognizing that his idea is a recipe for the extended slaughter of civilians, Pipes proposes a policy of “pressuring the rebels’ suppliers (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar) and the Syrian government’s supporters (Russia, China) to condition aid on abiding by the rules of war.” However, Pipes himself admits that “manipulating the rebel forces via remote control has little chance of success,” a point which presumably goes double for the Assad government.
Pipes also compares his “stalemate” policy to America’s involvement in World War II, saying that “keeping German troops tied down on the Eastern Front was critical to an Allied victory.” While it has been argued that the U.S. and Britain delayed the invasion of Europe to keep pressure on the Soviet Union to weaken it in the aftermath of an eventual Allied victory, Pipes doesn’t make this point, and even if he had, it wouldn’t make much sense in the Syria context. Moreover, as a cursory survey of knowledge of World War II history would admit, the Allies ultimately supported the Soviets in an attempt to totally defeat the Nazis. Pipes’ favored policy would be more like supporting Stalin until it looked like he was going to win, and then extending Lend-Lease to Hitler so the war would keep going.
The repugnant incoherence of Pipes’ argument can perhaps be explained by his background. Pipes is one of the five leading “experts” identified in a Center for American Progress report as critical to national Islamophobia industry. He regularly engages in “alarmist rhetoric about the creeping Sharia threat posed by radical Islam,” including insinuations that President Obama practiced Islam as a child.
In 2003, President Bush nominated Daniel Pipes to the board of the United States Institute for Peace.