On October 3, 2002, a young state senator gave an impassioned speech at an anti-war rally in the face of interventionist musings by the Bush White House. Two weeks later, the United States House of Representatives passed the Iraq Resolution, a move that began one of the longest military blunders since the Vietnam War. On the bright side, the political gods smile favourably on the few who challenge such neoconservative attempts at nation building. The state senator, Barack Obama, went on to win his 2004 Senate race and gain edtraction in the 2008-election cycle.
It is doubtful that Obama would be where he is today had he championed a campaign that shed inconceivable amounts of blood and treasure. His election brought a collective sigh of relief to the global community—not only because we fell in love with his words, but also because we believed he would stand for a foreign policy in which facts and reason would triumph over passion and greed.
Thirty-two years before the great orator condemned the invasion, a young Alawite general came to power in Sunni-dominated Syria through a bloodless coup. Hafez al-Assad began a 30-year rule that oversaw massive economic growth, the establishment of a neutral foreign policy, and the empowerment of women and children through secularism and public education. However, his regime would be stained by a single, brutal event: the Hama massacre. In 1982, a siege on an Islamist stronghold saw Assad’s air force kill 20,000 militants and civilians. This tragedy is not disputed, but the western media typically neglects to mention what led to it. From 1976 to 1982, Syria experienced an Islamic uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood, in which civilians, government officials, and, most notably, schools for girls, were targeted by suicide bombings and assassinations. The horror of this insurgency, amidst Assad’s attempt to build a modern Arab state, terrified secularists, liberals, women, and religious minorities, the same groups who today fear what a rebel victory could bring.
That state senator is a different person today. Now president, Obama has advocated launching a “tactical strike” on yet another Arab nation, an incursion that will likely cost billions, devastate an already-crippled state, and provide Islamist rebel groups favourable conditions necessary to massacre countless Alawite, Christian, and Shi’ite Syrians. Clearly, Bashar al-Assad fails to meet the western standard of statesmanship. However, the current media image of him ignores the bigger picture. The regime he inherited in 2000 was one of the most progressive in the Arab world, and Bashar al-Assad liberalized Syria’s economy and press to an extent unthinkable under Hafez, while simultaneously welcoming back and liberating thousands of Syrian exiles and political prisoners. Although he has been merciless in preserving the nation that his father built, it is inconceivable to think that a sharia state would be a suitable alternative to the modern society that still endures in the Fertile Crescent today.
It is laudable that the Obama administration is now taking a step back from its earlier threats of military action. It appears that Secretary Kerry, who once was on good terms with the Syrian dictator, has been leashed following brash statements which wildly oversimplified the situation. If he is any student of history, specifically the fates of American leaders who intervened in internal foreign conflicts, the president would leave Syria alone.