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Syria and the Caution of Outsiders

In a blog associated with the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman writes that those who support intervention in Syria have a "public duty to think through the consequences." He argues that the conflict could get worse. He says that if he were on the scene like the recently killed journalist Marie Colvin, "I would feel very diferenly. He adds that "Sometimes distance and detachment have their place."

From Homs the day before she died Marie Corvin reported:

No one here can understand how the international community can let this happen.

Marie Colvin was writing about people whose emotional engagement is understandable. For them, Rachman's caution and detachment have no value. People under attack want relief rather intellectual suppositions and caution.

And what can we who are distant from the conflict gather as significant in the caution and detachment of people outside Syria? What is already a civil war will continue so long as Assad is in power. Democracy will not happen so long Assad is in power. Al Qaeda and Hamas will continue to side with the opponents of Assad. Hillary Clinton is correct in pointing out the difficulty of small arms against tanks and artillery (weaponry range does matter), but the opposition has a great mass of people who are not backing down. They will continue to get at least a little help in weaponry from outside Syria. And the unfortunate extent to which the war intensifies as a sectarian conflict will be the doings of Syrians rather than prevented by outsiders urging caution.

Rachman is opposing arming opposition to the Assad regime. But murderous dictators love the idea that the oppressed don't have a right to bear arms, and I am not going to be among those who support Assad by entertaining such an attitude.

If Assad voluntarily steps down, fine. Otherwise he will be driven from power either by losing the support of his military (as Tsar Nicholas did in 1917 and as happened to Mubark in 2011) or he will be driven from power by a rival military power. It would be ugly. The American Revolution was a horrible civil war. We shouldn't wish it upon people but we shouldn't tell the Syrian people they don't have a right to their revolution or the arms necessary to make that revolution – even if the opposition to Assad is less than well organized.

Rachman argues against passion. He has the emotion-reason problem wrong. Passion is bad only when wagged by ignorance and stupidity.

Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.