Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes and Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, recently debated the merits of U.S. aid to Syrians fighting to overthrow Alawite dictator Bashar Assad.
Writing at National Review's blog "The Corner," Pipes advocated "a policy of inaction, of letting events transpire as they might in Syria." It is "good news" that "the abominable Assad dynasty is coming to its end," he wrote. "Better the devil we don't know than more of a totalitarian regime that oppresses its people, threatens its neighbors, and provides crucial assistance to the mullahs in Tehran."
But Pipes believes it would be a mistake for Washington to intervene militarily in an effort to bring Assad down. In his view, the best outcome for now would be prolonged fighting, which would benefit the West by weakening Damascus' ability to subvert its neighbors and deepening Sunni Muslim animosity against Assad's backers in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing.
Assad's ouster would not necessarily end Syria's civil war. More likely, according to Pipes, it would result in a scenario in which a Sunni Muslim regime tries to fend off overthrow attempts by the Alawites (in essence a reversal of the current situation.)
This argument drew a sharp rejoinder from Jasser, a first-generation Muslim American whose parents fled Syria to escape repression decades ago. In a public letter, he told Pipes that "'Letting them kill each other' (to paraphrase what you've written) is what my family struggled with when Hama, Palmiyra and other massacres happened as the West sat silent."
If the United States does nothing, the Syrian people will long remember that Turkey, the Gulf states and other Islamist nations "helped them when we did not," Jasser wrote. "American isolationism with Syria translates into surrender to Russia and Iran and China." U.S. inaction permits "Assad and his genocidal military machine to continue killing. Stemming the killing, preserving some semblance of a Syrian civilization against these power structures could not be more in our interest with regard to our influence and moral standing in the region."
The fight against Islamism "cannot work in an autocratic, corrupt environment," Jasser wrote Pipes. "So if you want liberal Muslims to succeed we need to stand with them and take sides."
In his reply, Pipes pointed to the recent examples of Afghanistan and Iraq and expressed doubt that Syrians would remember U.S. support for their liberation.
"I am in principle ready to intervene abroad – preferably using some sort of foreign legion – but I am reluctant to do so in Syria, where our intervention will likely bring an Islamist government to power," Pipes wrote Jasser. "If I thought there were a good chance of an intervention leading to positive results, I would endorse it."
Read the full exchange here.