Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

28 July 2012

Genocide in Arabia

Have you ever wondered what would have happened in South Africa without Nelson Mandela? or without F.W. de Klerk, who saw Mandela’s wisdom and talent clearly enough to save his white minority and his country from an impending bloodbath?

Well, you don’t have to wonder any more. Just look at Syria. Or look at what may be starting to happen, again, in Iraq.

In all the evil that lurks in us, there is little uglier than oppressing and slaughtering a weak internal minority. That’s what we Yanks once did with our native Americans but have long ago stopped doing. That’s what the Nazis did with Germany’s Jews, who were just as “German,” linguistically and culturally, as anyone else.

The Holocaust was a near-genocide of an oppressed minority (actually, several of them). The Allied victory in World War II stopped it before its completion. It was the primary reason for the Nuremburg trials: the world had to expose hidden crimes so beastly that some don’t even believe them today, notwithstanding a full “confession” from a horrified modern Germany.

But as horrible as oppressing and slaughtering a minority can be, there is one thing still worse: a minority using modern technology to oppress and slaughter the majority.

That’s what was happening in South Africa before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. Wise policy and inspired leadership (albeit at the last possible minute) prevented it from continuing, let alone reaching its natural conclusion.

But there’s no similar wisdom in Syria or in Iraq today. And so we have a tiny Syrian Alawite minority systematically slaughtering the majority in a self-evidently futile attempt to maintain its brutal rule. And so we have a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, seeking vainly to restore minority Sunni rule by re-igniting the sectarian civil war of 2006-2008, which American troops had arrested at a vast cost in lives and treasure.

The difference is not just a deficit of internal wisdom. External wisdom has failed, too. South Africa and its apartheid regime had borne well-coordinated external sanctions for decades before Mandela’s release from prison. Not so Syria or Iraq. The world stood idly by, hardly noticing the base ethnic and sectarian oppression, until Saddam took Kuwait’s oil fields in 1991, and until Assad began to push for sectarian genocide in earnest. We Yanks even let Saddam slaughter Iraq’s Shiite “Marsh Arabs” after our stunning victory in Gulf I.

Why the difference? Two factors stand out. First, it’s harder to see oppression and genocide based on religious sect or on ethnicity than on race. That’s partly why we let the Rwandan genocide happen. Second, oil—and the desire for political stability at any cost to extract it—clouded the West’s judgment.

How else can you explain France and Italy leading the charge to unseat Qaddafi while watching a sectarian genocide begin in Syria with apparent equanimity? How else can you explain our Yankee reluctance to provide more than communications gear to a struggling majority that, were it Christian and not Islamic, would have touched our hearts as much as did suffering blacks in South Africa?

There are other reasons for the difference, too. Israel has made a Faustian bargain with Assad, buying temporary stability at the cost of support for terrorism on its borders and vast human suffering inside Syria and Palestine.

Many Yankee Jews support Netanyahu’s self-evidently counterproductive policies as a necessary holding action in a losing war. They lack the imagination to conceive what might happen to Islam and to terrorism when ordinary Muslims can live, love and prosper as free men and women, just as Christians and Jews do nearly everywhere today.

They live in the past, re-enacting a bygone age of endless Biblical “smiting,” or re-imagining the Crusades. Many forget that it was Queen Isabella, not the Islamic Moors, who banished Jews from Spain.

Next there is Russia. No one wants to upset the West’s complicated relationship with Russia at a time when its cooperation in suppressing terrorism and supporting our war in Afghanistan is unprecedented [search for “paranoid”]. A renewal of the Cold War would do no one any good.

Last but not least, there’s a presidential election coming up. Have you noticed?

But it seems to me that the real source of the problem is a failure of humanity and imagination. Imagine the non-Alawite Muslims in Syria as majority blacks in South Africa or oppressed Jews or Gypsies in the Nazi Empire, and the world would leap to their defense.

That is precisely what the West should now do.

What good are the ideals of the Western Enlightenment if they apply only to Christians? Are we erecting barriers to global peace and stability that we have already struck down inside our own borders, with universal free exercise of religion, including Islam? Is our reluctance to aid the Syrian rebels—and our willingness to stand by and watch sectarian genocide—the last vestige of our own savage tribalism?

It should be obvious to all but Assad and his cronies that his acts and policies are unsustainable. The course he has chosen will result in his removal or death. The only questions are how long and how much bloodshed it will take.

So we can arm the rebels, lessen their suffering, curtail the sectarian genocide, and earn a bit of much-needed trust in the Islamic world. Or we can play the cautious bumbler and end up on the wrong side of history. Good intentions are not enough while the genocide rolls on.

I have no great love for John McCain, not after he squandered his Vietnam-era heroism on one of the filthiest, most racist campaigns after our own Civil War. But he’s right on this one. We should support and help arm the rebels, clandestinely (through Turkey) if we must, openly if we can.

I hope that we are doing so now, and that our help (like lend-lease before our entry into World War II) is secret. When America and France stop supporting liberty and fighting genocide, the world will be a much, much darker place.

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  • At Wed Aug 01, 09:43:00 PM EDT, Blogger madtom said…

    " When America and France stop supporting liberty and fighting genocide, the world will be a much, much darker place. "

    I fear that particular darkness fell long ago.

    Certainly America wanted to draft us when we were young men, to fight a colonial war when WWII left France too weak to keep its colonies. We then dropped more bombs on innocents than were dropped in all of WWII.

    So many bombs that the small percentage that failed to explode on impact, still to this day take limbs and lives in the fields of tribes who had then never even heard of the issues much less taken sides.

    Read Dervla Murphy's "One Foot in Laos" for an honest first-hand account of conditions as of 1998.

  • At Fri Aug 03, 12:52:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear madtom,

    I don't dispute the facts you state or your characterization of our first truly misguided war.

    We fought that war on the wrong side. We were so spooked by Communism that we pummeled a genuine national liberation movement, briefly supporting a dictator (Diem) who professed admiration for Adolf Hitler. Not only that: we used grossly excessive force to achieve bent ends.

    That was a terrible, grievous mistake—an indelible stain on our national history. It’s good reason to curse Robert S. McNamara well beyond his grave.

    But nations move on. Can good nations do bad things—really bad things? We don’t know yet. Human history is a work in progress. But what we did in Vietnam and Southeast Asia wasn’t nearly as bad as starting World War II and perpetrating the Holocaust, and look at Germany today. I don’t think we should write off the concept of redemption entirely, at least not just yet.

    Our more recent record is better. American pressure and our tough economic boycott deserve a large measure of credit for erasing apartheid in South Africa, and perhaps for insuring that Nelson Mandela didn’t die in prison. We stopped the genocide of Muslim Kosovars with cluster bombs, and we dropped them only on Serbian troops and tanks, not civilians. (The Serbs who ordered the butchery of innocent Muslims and the Rape of Sarajevo are now dead or in custody.)

    Our most recent record is pretty good (because we have a pretty good president). After vacillating a bit, we put our shoulder behind the Arab Spring—the greatest flowering of human liberty since the Russians threw off Communism. We're supporting democracy in Tunisia and in Egypt, and we’re pressuring the Egyptian generals to allow more.

    Our military intervention was instrumental in saving free Libyans from slaughter and eventually getting rid of Qaddafi. And I hope and expect that soon we will provide more substantial support to the Syrian rebels, if only to stop the bloodshed there.

    It's no coincidence that two of our worst presidents in foreign affairs were Texans (Johnson and Dubya). Neither understood foreign cultures or the value of restrained and limited power. They were inexperienced men who understood only American politics, rambo tactics, and imperial pride.

    In contrast, our current President is absolutely brilliant in using all forms of power—economic, military, political, diplomatic, and reputational—to achieve mostly good ends. Among many other things, he has been hugely successful in fighting terrorists by being smart and self-restrained (and choosing targets more carefully and accurately).

    That’s one of many reasons why it’s vital that Obama win this election. In his inexperience, egotism and easy jingoism, Mitt Romney gives every indication of becoming as disastrous a leader abroad as Lyndon or Dubya.

    Best regards,


  • At Fri Aug 03, 01:07:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear madtom,

    One brief correction: it was Nguyen Cao Ky, Diem’s air marshal and sometime prime minister, who expressed admiration for Hitler and his methods [see “Pacifying or Policifying”]. It was not Diem himself.

    Sorry for the error. It’s not a good idea to rely on memory at my age, not when you have Google at your fingertips. The “mainstream” media do that too often, and we bloggers have to set an example.



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