In her opening paragraph, Daoudy sets the mostly imagined controversy up as one unfolding between enlightened voices like hers and those of “neo-Orientalists,” who, she notes, “once characterized” the Arab world as “politically and economically stagnant.” Confession: I have once or twice applied the same characterization. Please forgive my neo-Orientalism.
Prompting Daoudy’s call for restraint are articles recently released by Washington-based think tanks (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies) advocating a more aggressive foreign policy toward the Assad regime. Instead of addressing the neoconservative think tanks’ arguments, and despite their stopping short of calling for regime change, Daoudy reminds us of their “history of pro-war advocacy” and links to the second Bush administration. The think tanks, it seems, are on the march.
It gets worse. The National Security Council itself has, apparently, investigated options for an intervention. These options include establishing safe zones and humanitarian corridors. The Syrian National Council, which represents the opposition, has also called for a no-fly zone to be established by the West (ah, so the neocons are not alone after all).
“The long term goal,” in Daoudy’s estimation, “is clearly strategic: to tame Syria as a key regional player” and “shape the country’s geopolitical links.” Regime change, war, or tactical bombing would indeed serve those aims, but how would the humanitarian measures being proposed tame Syria as a regional player? And this theory does not account for timing; it is Syria’s domestic murderousness, not its uncooperative foriegn policy, that is new here. The options into which the NSC has looked seem more suited to the preservation of human life than the advancement of a geopolitical master plan; sorry if that sounds terribly naïve.
We Shall Overcome
Eventually, Daoudy meanders away from intonations about “pro-war” think tanks—who, to reiterate, do not advocate regime change or even all-out combat against Syrian forces—and toward an actual argument against military intervention (presumably by the U.S., since she addresses no other state’s foreign policy). In doing this, she both selects the wrong target and aims poorly.
If a foreign military intervention happens in Syria, it will be Turkish, not American. In fact, a Turkish intervention might already be said to have begun: Turkey has trained and harbored defectors of the Free Syrian Army, and Haaretz reports that Turkish officials today confiscated four Iranian truckloads of Syria-bound weapons. His “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy doctrine apparently a victim of history, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already called on Bashar al-Assad to step down and approved sanctions against Syria. Despite this, Daoudy mentions Turkey twice, both times in passing.
But let us suppose that America were indeed dusting off the 2003 war drums. Why not bomb Damascus? First, Daoudy invokes the reviled Iraq War and the less-reviled Libya intervention, attempting to establish a pattern of interventions gone awry. She asserts that these interventions “appalled” Syrians, to whom she ascribes no ability to distinguish between the two episodes, or between either episode and the current one.
Daoudy then acknowledges that Syrian suffering has reached an “unbearable” level, before arguing, in so many words, that Syrians should go on bearing it. She describes worsening living conditions, rising violence perpetrated by military defectors and frustrated civilians, and the state-sponsored orgy of torture, murder, and intimidation that has only accelerated since the departure of Arab League monitors. She then calls not only for foreign powers to mind their own business, but for Syrian rebels to lay down their weapons and emulate Gandhi.
Don’t Feed the Rhetoric
Armed resistance, writes Daoudy, “could feed into official rhetorics on foreign-led insurgency.” First of all, the official rhetoric of Syria is clear to Syrians; it is made of bullets, shells, and mutilated children. Also, note what is implied here: that anything on which an adversary’s rhetoric can feed should be avoided. That doctrine gives our adversaries practically limitless control over our actions; if they want us not to do something, they need only harangue their subjects about our nefarious plans to do it.
Daoudy also cautions that unarmed resistance has drawn “momentum and power” by being peaceful. How she knows this is a mystery. To claim that the Syrian uprising has been gaining momentum at all is a stretch; to identify nonviolence as the sole source of that momentum requires powers of divination I do not possess.
Daoudy claims without qualification that any foreign intervention—again, we are talking here about no-fly zones or safe havens—would push all hitherto undecided Syrians into the arms of the regime. No historical precedent comes to mind that justifies this causal assumption (the case of Libya appears to weaken it); please leave a comment if you think of one.
Eventually, Daoudy prescribes two measures for the international community—human rights fact-finding missions and, “with time,” targeted sanctions which spare the general population. She urges restraint and nonviolence from Syrians. Whether or not nonviolence is the best course, it seems presumptuous both to tell us how Syrians would react to foreign intervention and to tell Syrians how they should react to being massacred by their own state.