Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Chaos Theory

by Dr. Reuven Berko

The sages of Islamic religious law believe in the ancient tradition that teaches that "60 years of rule by an imam [an Islamic community leader] who exploits his people are preferable to one day without leadership." These sages cite ancient excerpts on the terrible meaning of anarchy as a result of mutiny against the Islamic rule. The only objective of these ancient traditions is to bolster the status of the central leadership. 

This Islamic approach stems from the fact that by the nature of its conquests and absorption of peoples and leaders who joined Islam, the ever-growing Islamic rule is constantly under threat of splintering. Therefore, the directive is to comply with the rule of the Islamic ruler, appointed from within the Islamic nation, and never to defy him under any circumstances, unless, of course, the ruler is corrupt and leads the nation to heresy. That is precisely what the Islamist rebels are claiming against Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

But in light of the presence of foreign rulers in Islamic countries, Muslim philosophers, the most prominent of whom is Ibn Taymiyyah, have, over the last 100 years, developed a different approach than the one that grants total control to the Islamic ruler. They define and list a set of circumstances and instances under which it is permissible to rebel against an Islamic ruler. These thinkers concluded that when a leader exploits his people, and thereby violates the Islamic code and corrupts the believers, he must be removed. Today, the people who abide by this doctrine are, generally speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood, and more specifically, their people in Egypt and in Syria. 

The religious aspect as justification for legitimate power is a pawn in the hands of regional leaders, who make sure to surround themselves with religious figures, to have their pictures taken while praying in mosques and to have the constant support of the religious school of thought while eliciting favorable fatwas that bolster the moral status of their rule. Even Assad, who claims to stand at the helm of a modern, secular, pluralistic country that represents Alawites, Christians, Druze, Kurds and Sunni Muslims, regularly raises his hands to his ears, extends his arms forward and kneels down on the mosque floor like everyone else. 

In Syria's case, it simply doesn't work. Syria is a multi-ethnic country that is not monolithic. Assad's fellow Alawites are seen by Sunni Muslims (the majority of the population in Syria) as the worst of the infidels. The Druze as well. Assad's Islamic backing comes from Shiite Tehran -- Sunni Islam's main rival. Therefore, this backing has very little significance in terms of bolstering Assad's leadership, and is even irksome. 

The problem of legitimacy of rule in Syria stems from the fact that Assad's fall, with or without Shiite backing, represents an existential threat to the Alawite sect as a whole. Therefore, the sect's continued rule, regardless of the identity of the actual president, will automatically be defined by Sunnis as "exploitative" rule. Such leadership will always face a fighting opposition, hostility and eternal Sunni resistance. That is why any leader hailing from the Alawite sect will have to make constant use of force to preserve his power and the continued existence of the Alawite sect within Syria.

Other minority ethnicities in Syria will also forever be at odds with the Sunnis, and that is why they prefer maintaining an alliance of minorities with the Alawites. The Sunni Muslims, on the other hand, mainly the ones belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, are convinced that they should be the ones in power. They will not rest until they achieve power, at the expense of the other ethnic minorities, and the rights and property of others. In light of the West's past experience with this bunch, it is not clear that the coalition forces will help realize this goal, shared by the Muslim Brotherhood and their Turkish and Qatari sponsors. Obviously, this makes the question of what will happen on the day after the attack in Syria that much more complicated. 

Syria is currently on the operating table, and the question is whether, due to its lack of morals (the mass murder of civilians and use of chemical weapons), it will be allowed to die, permanently clipped by the knife of the coalition. It is not a question of leadership but rather an ethno-religious question. The Syrian leadership is trapped in the dying body of an artificially established nation that is in constant conflict with itself. Instead of resuscitating the dying country, a clumsy Western assault could actually accelerate its demise. 

An artificial army

Unfortunately, the assessment is that despite the vast differences between the interests of the U.S., the West, the Arab nations and Russia, they all surprisingly share one common objective, which can be gleaned from the list of the operation's targets: To punish and deter Assad and his regime. However, the very definition of these targets suggests that the mission at hand is to preserve the existing Syrian regime, not to topple it.
All the powers in the burgeoning coalition against the tyrant know that to depose Assad would be rather simple. But it turns out that none of the countries currently closing in on Syria's borders, awaiting the results of the investigation into whether or not chemical weapons were actually used, ever really considered deposing Assad as a potential course of action, at this stage. In light of Syria's conflicted state, no one knows for sure what the leadership will look like after Assad falls. It is clear to the members of the coalition that the use of force will only intensify Assad's audacity rather than deterring him from continuing his criminal actions. Such a calamity will even cause further damage by prompting Russia and Iran -- next in line on the West's hit list -- and their belligerent proxy Hezbollah, to raise their heads. This will diminish the U.S.'s power of deterrence, already at an all-time low, even further, while eroding further U.S. President Barack Obama's image as a leader. All these factors require a very calculated decision regarding the direction of the attack, its intensity and its targets.
Overuse of power against Syria will destroy the little that is left of Assad's regime, indiscriminately scatter the remnants of his institutions and army in every direction and generate anarchy while dividing the nation, which was artificially bound together to begin with. The current framework will splinter into armed, hostile, religious and ethnic cantons that will be at war with one another -- Kurds, Alawites, Druze, Muslims -- leaving the Christians as the permanent victims of all the sides.
The collapse of Syria's patchwork nationality and leadership could intensify the activity of uncontrollable Islamist terror organizations, which are currently aiming their fire at the regime, and even at each other, but, after the Western assault, could potentially aim their guns outside the torn Syrian tent toward their neighbors.
Indeed, alongside the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian opposition now includes a good number of extreme Islamist terror organizations and powers, such as the Nusra Front, which, like al-Qaida, are a viral organism manufactured by the Muslim Brotherhood. No one, except perhaps megalomaniacal Turkey or treacherous Qatar, would be willing to tolerate their leadership over the country.
Refusing every proposed arrangementIrrational use of force could turn destroyed Syria into an arena for Islamist terror activity, like Afghanistan or Iraq, or place Sunni Islamists in power, which would be even worse option than the current Alawite-Shiite terrorists. Therefore, the dilemma facing the budding Western-Arab-Turkish coalition is a situation where they can't swallow, but they can't spit. This situation is a result of the fact that there is no real alternative to Assad's regime. More accurately, there is no one who can replace the existing regime, but perhaps there is someone who can replace Assad until a modern, alternative government is established by way of a temporary government and democratic elections. 

A well-calculated use of force will force Assad's regime into dialogue with the West, in meetings like Geneva II, that will bring about Assad's resignation and the establishment of a temporary government ahead of national elections under international supervision. Such a process could, perhaps, usher in a consensual Islamic but secular majority rule over a well packaged Syria. 

A well-calculated use of force would pound Iran, Syria and China and restore the U.S.'s long lost power of deterrence. A well-calculated use of force would force Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become more civilized, while simultaneously shutting down the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, ensuring the safety of the Gulf states, Israel and the world from the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. In the meantime, the mess will continue to get messier.

What kind of force can restore order in the Syrian chaos? Will the Islamist rebel forces permit such a process in the wake of a military assault directed at Assad's regime? The main concern is that the Western assault will actually make the Syrian opposition believe that it can usurp power in the aftermath, prompting the rebels to refuse every proposed arrangement. History teaches us that the current convergence of problems is naturally leading down a path to the old solutions, which were already raised and rejected in the past by the participants of the first Geneva conference. Ultimately, everyone will arrive at the same agreements they could have reached in the first place, before violence was employed, but now, they will be broken and tattered.
Sometimes you wake up on the morning after an adventure and wring your hands in regret of the previous night. There is no doubt that Assad is in need of a blow that will eliminate his chemical weapons reserves and generate regional and global deterrence regarding the West's ability to combat the growing evil in Iran, Russia, China and North Korea. But a person who slaps a scumbag is bound to get scum on his hands, and this won't necessarily change the scumbag's ways. Sometimes, when faced with the results of an operation, it turns out that the entire thing was not a good idea.
In light of the coalition's plans, the expectations might be too high because, in effect, on the morning after the operation, nothing will have changed in the Syrian arena or among the Iranians or Russians, who stand behind the butcher from Damascus. For now, it appears that the massacre will continue, even if it is without weapons of mass destruction, because none of the members of the coalition wants to intervene on the ground in the killing fields, except, perhaps Turkey, with its imperialistic, Ottoman agenda. The Iranian and Soviet influences in Syria and in Lebanon will continue, and possibly even intensify once the Americans' rage subsides.
Fulfilling the moral obligation
Until now, it hasn't been clear at all how using chemical weapons was in any way useful to Assad. What did he intend to achieve? Who did he want to kill and frighten? What was going through his and his commanders' minds when they ordered the launch of chemical weapons despite Obama's explicit warnings on the matter? Was this criminal use of forbidden weapons the result of an argument or an accident in the highest levels of government or the military? Assad is viewed as quite evil, but not that dumb. The very use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its own citizens and their children, particularly at the timing that it happened, remains an unsolved mystery.
Just like it was throughout history, so it is now: The anti-Semites' favorite hobby is to blame the Jews and threaten Israel. That's how it is with the ayatollahs in Iran, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Erdogan in Turkey and ultimately Assad in Syria. One can venture a guess, especially with the coalition in the picture but even without it, that Assad is not stupid enough to launch a military strike against Israel. Perhaps, if he is desperate enough and has little enough to lose, he may want to go down in history as a fighter of Jews rather than the butcher of his own people, and then he will take action against us. But according to the outline of the coalition's planned operation, Assad is supposed to be spared. In any case, hopefully, knowing the painful death he faces personally if he attacks Israel and the irreversible damage that Israel will leave behind in Syria, he understands that such a move will not expunge the mass murderer of civilians from his legacy, and will refrain from doing anything rash. Nasrallah also knows what Assad knows.
In light of the limited and well-defined objectives of the coalition's operation, Assad's regime will remain intact. The Russians will resume their support of Assad, possibly even more than before, just to prove their military might within the framework of their escalating cold war with the West. However, the damage caused by the assault, the weakening of the Syrian army and the determination of the rebels, whose spirit and capabilities are only growing stronger, may ultimately lead Assad to engage in dialogue, making things easier for all sides. This is undoubtedly also in the best interest of the Alawites, who are losing their sons in the bloody battle. World leaders can say they fulfilled their moral obligation, checking off another box on the list of their twisted conscience, leaving the real burning problems entirely unsolved.
An old Bedouin man explained the issue of deterrence between the coalition and the criminal Syria and Iran with an old story. A Bedouin man who lived with his wives and daughters in the dessert was fattening a chicken ahead of the big holiday feast. On the eve of the holiday, the chicken was stolen. The old man summoned his sons and demanded that they catch the thieves and restore the chicken to him. His sons giggled and put a different chicken in his hand. 

The following day, the man's sheep was stolen. He again summoned his sons, and demanded that they bring back his chicken, but they giggled and compensated him with two sheep.
The following day, the horse was stolen, and the old man continued with his mantra, demanding that his sons bring him back his chicken.
At the end of the week, the man's daughter was kidnapped and raped. He summoned his sons and demanded again that they find the chicken. "Our sister was raped, and all you care about is your chicken?" they asked, shocked.
"If you had caught the thieves and brought me back my chicken when I asked, your sister would not have been raped," the old man replied.
Just like Cato the Elder, who insisted that "Carthage must be destroyed" over and over again, we must remind ourselves again and again: Syria is not the problem. The problem is the Iranian nuclear program, the source of Syria's and Hezbollah's power and the mother of all evils in the region. That is the real target that the coalition should have in its sights.

Dr. Reuven Berko


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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