(September 1, 2011) If Assad is given the boot, the West should take charge and break it up.
The Western world, bereft of a strategy to stop the slaughter in Syria, no longer hopes that President Bashar Assad will come to his senses, become the reformer that it thought he was, and unite the country’s many ethnic and religious groups through democratic reforms. Instead, it half-heartedly calls for his ouster, hoping that a regime change, if it comes, won’t see Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood rise to dominance, as its counterpart has in Egypt.
There is a better end game, one that the Syrian and Iranian governments both fear: Syria’s dismemberment into constituent parts.
Since Britain and France, the great powers of the day, carved up the Middle East after World War I, the borders of Syria changed numerous times following coups and machinations. At no time in the last century has Syria been either a coherent country or a peaceable one that respected the human rights of its communities. Its present areas were various administrative districts of the Ottoman Empire.
Today, Syria, a mostly Sunni country, is ruled by the minority Alawites, a Shia offshoot that represents about 12% of Syria’s population and represses most of the rest. The various Alawite incarnations this century provides a flavour of the region’s fluidity: Alawites joined a Syrian Federation in 1922, left it in 1924, rejoined it in 1936 and then seized power following a 1963 coup.
Rather than let the Alawites continue their brutal reign, today’s great powers — the U.S. and NATO countries — should confine Alawites to an Alawite state in the central Western part of the country, where they are predominant. Not only would this free most Syrian citizens from Assad’s tyranny, it would rob Iran, Syria’s Shia partner, of its most important Arab ally. A separate Alawite state would also protect the Alawites from the retribution they fear from the majority Sunnis should the Assad regime fall.
Syria’s largest non-Arab minority, the Kurds, should also be granted a homeland. If Iraq’s Kurds are any indication, this long persecuted ethnic group — one of the world’s largest ethnic groups without a country of its own — has proven itself to be a faithful ally of the West and tolerant of diversity among themselves.
A Kurdish state carved out of the northern part of present-day Syria would have other benefits for the West as well: Kurds are among the Middle East’s fiercest fighters (Saladin, who vanquished the Crusaders, was a Kurd). And should Iraq fall under Iran’s sway, or should Iraq fall apart after U.S. troops leave, a united Kurdistan of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds would be a counterweight to Iran, as well as a source of oil.
Another Syrian minority — the Druze — should also be granted a state, much as they enjoyed until 1936. This Arab minority practices its own brand of Islam and it is respectful of Western institutions. In Israel, for instance, the Druze demanded and won the right to join the armed services, where they have proven themselves to be valiant servicemen, as well as loyal citizens.
The Syrian state that results after the Druze, Kurd and Alawite portions are separated, would be dominated by the country’s Sunni majority. While the Muslim Brotherhood would still be a force, its influence in the region would be greatly diminished, even if it did succeed in gaining power.
More importantly, the West would be creating much needed friends in the Middle East while disempowering both Syria and Iran, state sponsors of terror that are also the region’s most anti-American states.
The chief drawback to a Syrian dismemberment? Reluctance to offend Turkey, which fears that a Kurdish state in what is now Syria would embolden its own Kurdish separatists. Given Turkey’s failure to support the West in its invasion of Iraq, Turkey’s continual crackdown on dissent within its borders and its encouragement of the Gaza flotilla, the West has no cause to favour appeasement of Turkey over the many gains to be had through a dismemberment of Syria.
This article first appeared in the National Post.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.