06 September 2013

Is Obama forgetting that many Syrians support Assad?

As humanitarian concern over the Syrian tragedy transforms into a call for war, I wonder if we in the West—and most importantly President Obama—aren't forgetting that many Syrians support Bashar al-Assad. The last poll I could find (January 2012) showed that 55 per cent do not want him to resign.

Many segments of the Syrian population have good reason to fear the rebels. Women, for instance. They are now free to enter public life, but that could change if an Islamist opposition took over. The fact that the rebels are supported by Saudi Arabia, the world's most misogynistic nation, does nothing to ease their concern.

The military support Assad, of course. As do the merchant classes. Christians, who make up 10 per cent of the population, are terrified of the Salafi elements among the rebels. A variety of ethnic groups also fear the gunmen for similar reasons. There are even those among the opposition who fear their violent brothers-in-revolution.

This is not to say these various sectors of the population support Assad in his dictatorship. They don't, most want democratic elections, but they fear for the future of their country if change is dictated by ideological gunmen.

How, I wonder, does Obama think all these Syrians will react if he attacks their country. Does he think they will applaud? That is not the lesson of history. History tells us that when under attack, people rally behind their leader, even an unpopular leader. They may not much like their government, but they like foreign aggressors a great deal less. Congress may approve Obama's plan to bash Syria, but the result may surprise and disappoint him. Syria will be a more bloody and battered place but it may also have a more determined population rallying behind their president and against the rebels. And against the United States.

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