Both sides of the Washington duopoly firmly believe in the existence of moderate Islam. I am not referring to the everyday Islam of most Indonesian or Indian Muslims talked up by Islamophiles, but to an Islam that is supposedly a moderate political force. This theoretical Islam is nonviolent and “peace-loving”. Its adherents supposedly yearn for self-determination, elections, a “free press,” and the protection of minority rights. According to Fox News, this Islam is absolutely necessary as an “ally” against the extremists, which is why Donald Trump’s Muslim ban is such a terrible idea.
There are two problems with this moderate political Islam: First, this phenomenon is awfully elusive , and, second, it has proven, time after time, to be irrelevant in any Middle Eastern hot spot. The latest illustration of this comes from Syria.
During the last four years, both the Obama administration and the neoconservative policy wonks have insisted that there is a noble opposition in Syria. This notion has been argued repeatedly, by people like John McCain pleading for President Obama to do more in support of the so-called moderate opposition or by Obama himself, who has criticized the Russians for not distinguishing between ISIS and the more palatable rebels supported by his administration. Recent events have demonstrated the shortcomings of this assessment, not the least of which is the failure to realize that the acquisition of power is often a matter of willpower and brutality.
The first question that needs to be asked is why, yet again, the Americans have decided to risk putting money and arms in the hands of Sunni militants. We have done this enough, either intentionally or unintentionally, to have learned that this is something we should avoid at all costs. Every international terrorist group of concern to the United States in the last 30 years has been Sunni. As Srdja Trifkovic and others have pointed out, the al-Qaeda phenomenon began with us arming the Sunni mujahedeen in opposition to the Russians during the 1980s.
The Shia in Iraq may have taken our weapons and dropped them for ISIS to scoop up, but, unlike the various Sunni groups, they have shown little proclivity for attacking the West. If we have to pick a side, the Shia would seem to be a better bet, if for no other reason than that their numbers are smaller and their ambitions more localized. The Iranians are not bankrolling the radicalization of Muslims on all continents. They are leaving that project to our Saudi allies whom Bill O’Reilly and Fox News don’t want Trump to alienate. In the face of all this evidence, U.S. leaders have opted to fund and arm the Sunni side in Syria.
The US agenda rests on a very dubious foundation, which is little more than wishful thinking. The hope is that at the end of a free-for-all war, an amicable Arab government will somehow get to power and sustain itself indefinitely. Imagine a scenario with an Arab version of Jimmy Carter leading the way. Not only has such an unlikely event never resulted from any similar situation, but Syria-- a boiling pot of sectarianism and jihadism--may be the least likely place for this dream to become reality Add to the equation the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s contempt for dictators who violate “human rights”, and we see a project with as much hope for success as Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign.
As David Ignatius has described in the Washington Post, there are essentially six warring factions in Syria. The two most prominent are the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, and then ISIS. The other four are: 1) the Kurds, whose interests are purely selfish and limited, 2) the Turks, who are in conflict with the Kurds, 3) the al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group al-Nusra, and then 4) the Sunni opposition funded and armed by the United States, the Saudis, and other oil-rich gulf states. Somehow the Washington calculus--wildy improbable--is that with Assad deposed in the midst of a chaotic breakdown of the Syrian state, their Sunni beneficiaries will seize power while not only placating the Alawites, Christians, Turks, and Kurds, but also repressing the jihadist groups they have been fighting with for years in opposition to Assad.
What make this agenda even more silly are two other underreported factors: 1) the low numbers of the so-called moderate opposition and its apparent lack of commitment to the cause as the U.S. conceives it, and 2) the moderate opposition’s constant wavering between fighting with the jihadists and acting like the jihadists, on the one hand, and then doing what its American and Arab bankrollers want it to do on the other. Regarding point #1, consider Ignatius’s summation of the U.S.’s success in fostering this opposition force during the past year:
“In Iraq, U.S. trainers were dispatched to Al Asad and Al Taqaddum air bases in Anbar province to train thousands of Sunni tribal fighters. The tribesmen mostly didn’t show up, and no wonder: The Shiite-led government in Baghdad still refuses to approve a Sunni ‘national guard’ with real power. In Syria, Congress authorized a $500 million plan to train and equip a largely Sunni force to fight the Islamic State. Only a few hundred signed up, instead of the expected 5,000, and the first wave of fighters walked into a trap and was savaged by jihadists in northern Syria.”
So there you have it. he Sunnis of supporting a Shiite government in Iraq or in fighting ISIS to the death, which is what would be required to actually defeat ISIS. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, except to the narrow-minded democracy ideologues who condemn Bush but persist in having the same fundamental vision for Middle East democracy that he did.
Our moderate allies not only lack commitment, but in addition they are backed by Saudi and Qatari money that may make them ultimately unreliable. What makes matters even worse is that if the moderate opposition is interested in cultivating alliances, it appears to be interested in teaming with al-Nusra and ISIS. Very recently a Christian bishop in Syria informed a Catholic news agency that the so-called moderate opposition was engaging in constant bombardment of civilians along with the jihadists. Bishop Georges Abou Khazen of Aleppo went on to remark that the "groups that are called the 'moderate opposition' do not differ from the other jihadists (Islamic State and al-Nusra) other than by name," an assertion which appears to corroborate Mr. Trump's assertion that we don't know who these people are.
For both the Democrats and neocons, Islam is capable of producing moderate political forces that can steer a course between a secular state and Islamist extremism. They also think that American involvement can help move the region away from these two paths. To date the D.C. establishment has had no success and only cultivated more enemies for the United States. This is because, in their ignorance and contempt for Christianity, they are searching for something that doesn't exist.