Despite Donald Trump‘s recent bombing of a Syrian airbase, dictator Bashar al-Assad is in an enviable position now. With fierce backing from longstanding allies Russia and China (who wield veto power on the UN Security Council) and a steady supply of funding, weapons, and troops from key Shia ally Iran, Assad’s prospects for holding onto power have never looked better. The US has gone so far as to recently backtrack on the necessity of removing al-Assad from power.
Ever crafty and wily, al-Assad has masterfully played his cards, in a high-stakes political game that has threatened to turn a localized civil war into a super-power backed global war. His most masterful stroke: taking only symbolic and sporadic measures against the apocalyptically devious Islamic State, while directing the vast brunt of Syrian military muscle against more mainstream Sunni rebel elements.
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Thus al-Assad leaves the rest of the world with the problem of eradicating the Islamic State from Syrian territory, which never had legitimate prospects of displacing him, while mercilessly hammering more “moderate” elements of Sunni civil society.
As a libertarian, I could never in good conscience support the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It would be difficult to think of a regime less libertarian than his Syrian dictatorship (Mao Zedong, Stalin, Hitler, Muammar Qaddafi come to mind).
But Trump, whose foreign policy never gave much assurance to libertarians to begin with, appears to have made another serious foreign policy blunder, based on faulty intelligence. Al-Assad is a terrible, repressive dictator, but taking on the al-Assad regime at the behest of the US would usher in an era of chaotic and violent instability so disastrous and apocalyptic that it would make 2004 Iraq look like a family outing to Disney World.
I will reference George Washington’s Farewell Address until I am blue in the face: it was never the intention of our Founding Fathers that we would be an empire, backed by an incredibly pervasive (and expensive) military, bouncing around from global conflict to global conflict, policing the world.
Trump would be wise to heed the words of Ron and Rand Paul and completely take the preposterous notion of “taking out” or “taking on” Assad off the table.
That being said, let’s hope that Trump’s gesture was more symbolic, a matter of “optics”, than a sea change in previous US foreign policy towards Syria.
Assad is the only credible entity capable of protecting the 30% of Syrians who are not Sunni Muslims: Christians, Shia, Alawites, and Druze.
Meanwhile, as Barack Obama quickly discovered, the Syrian Sunni “freedom fighters” are often, in fact, radical jihadi terrorists aligned with Al-Qaeda who make the Assad regime look moderate by comparison. Look at how successful the American funding of the “Free Syrian Army” was…the group where the majority of troops and weapons ended up aligned and in the hands of Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s local Syrian affiliate, and other jihadist-aligned organizations.
Firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase is marginal at best, and at worst, extremely counterproductive.
Don’t believe the mainstream media. As awful as al-Assad is, the consequences of taking him out would be infinitely worse.
Which leads to a conclusion that has not seemed to appear in the discourse of either Obama or Trump. There is only one solution for the Syrian problem. There is only one way to end the carnival of death and destruction: a two-state solution.
In the wake of al-Assad’s unquestionable brutality, it is inconceivable that Syria’s Sunnis, which constitute 68% of the population, would ever live willingly under the totalitarian rule of the al-Assad dynasty. It is equally inconceivable that al-Assad, despite his powerful backing from regional and global allies, and his recent military and geopolitical successes, would be able to bring the entirety of Syria’s territory under regime control.
Unfortunately, the prospects of a moderate and democratic Sunni-dominated transitional government offering equal protection under the law to Syria’s religious minorities (who have strongly backed al-Assad) appear equally remote.
In the context of Iraq, dividing up the country was presented as a viable option: most likely a three state solution with a Shia nation in the South and East, a Sunni nation in the West stretching along the borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, and a Kurdish nation in the North. Such a political division is imperative for lasting peace in Syria.
It is preposterous to envision a free society flourishing anywhere in Syrian territory in the foreseeable future. Fundamentally, democracy, capitalism, human rights, and religious pluralism are alien concepts to the majority of Syrians. Al-Assad’s rule was actually more enlightened with respect to these themes than many of his dictatorial regional counterparts. And al-Assad presents a greater degree of moderation than what is likely to spring forth from Syrian Sunni territory.
If the global diplomatic community in general, and the Trump administration in particular, really want to end the shedding of the blood of innocents, there is a path. First…gather all non-jihadist Sunni parties and the Syrian regime, and sign a ceasefire agreement, while simultaneously pledging to ruthlessly eradicate the Islamic State from Syrian territory.
Second…form a national commission to divide the nation into: a religiously pluralistic Western Syria, stretching from Damascus in the south, through Homs and Tartus, and ending in Latakia, before reaching the Turkish border, and a Sunni Eastern Syria, stretching from the eastern edges of Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo to the vast eastern deserts.
Drawing the borders will not be easy. Syria’s major cities of Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo, for example, are religiously mixed. But Syrian people would have the option of choosing to live in Eastern Syria or Western Syria. Such processes of political division are perilous and invariably more favorable to some than others. Some of the greatest geopolitical and military conflicts have centered around this precise issue: Dividing Yugoslavia between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. The partition of Indian territory into India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Splitting off South Sudan from Sudan.
The road will not be easy. It never is. But such a plan for a divided Syria could legitimately prevent another half million innocent Syrian civilians from being slaughtered over the course of the next 5 years.
Bashar al-Assad would never go along with such a plan…unless of course, he had no other choice. Donald Trump’s diplomatic mission is clear: if it could be reasonably demonstrated that a two state solution in Syria could dramatically diminish the humanitarian crisis, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Russia and China could use their considerable influence to persuade al-Assad to accept such a deal.
That would be a better use of Trump’s time than launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase.
By John Pierce The immigration debate continues to rage, and as is normally the case, the solutions of the left andthe right both end up in the exact same place: a larger federal government. The only way to see this situation with any clarity is from the perspective of liberty, which is the perspective of the founders—and when you do, the view changes significantly. All across social media, not even to speak of the mainstream media, people seem to be looking at the immigration issue incorrectly. The old parties take their predictable positions. People inclined more leftward seem to want open borders with full-time Virtue Signaling Teams distributing government benefits to lure in new voters, while many on the right want to register everyone, build a wall and, if pushed, probably put sharpshooters at the top. The constitutional perspective is completely different. To begin with, the Constitution is essentially a libertarian document in the sense that its main concern is the liberty of the people, accomplished by restraining the size of government—the main threat to individual liberty. The federal government, the founders said, can exercise only those powers we delegate to it. The rest go to the people and the states. In fact, the main power that governments could have, the “police power” to pass laws relating to health, safety and welfare, was denied the federal government and given the states by the founders. So, does the Constitution specifically give the power over immigration to the federal government? Before you can say of course it does, take a close look at the enumerated powers. It does not. The closest it comes is delegating the power to naturalize citizens. That is, the federal government can decide whether foreigners can become United States citizens. That only makes sense, But the idea that the far-off federal government would enforce borders, much less build walls on the edge of any particular state, was ridiculous in the minds of the founding generation. History is clear enough on this point. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 effectively nationalized the issue of immigration by giving government the power to deport non-citizens in a time of near war with France. But Thomas Jefferson and James Madison condemned the measure as unconstitutional. Jefferson persuasively argues that these issues were mainly left to the states, and that federal intervention in immigration was an unconstitutional overreach. In 1868 the Fourteen Amendment was passed stating that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Some have claimed that this gave the federal government increased power over immigration, but the language and history belie the claim. There is no reference to immigration, only naturalization and citizenship in the United States, both explicitly federal issues. Such a bold change in the law would have created a passionate reaction – similar to opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts. We find no such reaction in the discourse of the time. Some 20 years later, though, things got complicated. The Supreme Court essentially federalized the immigration power in 1889. It did so at that time to ban Chinese laborers from coming into the United States. The Court agreed with a California proposal and a law the Congress had passed the year before. The reasoning behind the law were shocking to the modern ear, “the presence of Chinese laborers had a baneful effect upon the material interests of the state, and upon public morals; that their immigration was in numbers approaching the character of an Oriental invasion.” See the Chinese Exclusion Case, here. Read More: Behind Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El-Aissami’s Drug Trafficking Activities Read More: U.S. Sanctions Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami for Drug Trafficking Did the Supreme Court of 1889 have the authority to hand over a state power to the federal government when the Constitution did not? Of course not. Can the 130 years of law since then be reversed because of this inappropriate appropriation of power? Practically speaking, probably not. Nevertheless, the change in law has fueled the inexorable growth of government, and we should recognize this before we clamor for more federal action. Where the “threat” in 1889 was supposedly the Chinese, today it is Mexicans, Middle Easterners, or more often, simply a general threat to our safety. Whomever “they” are, it is argued, “they” will come across the border and menace us. Therefore, the United States should spend millions, if not billions, of dollars on a towering wall, double the size of certain federal law enforcement agencies and register huge numbers of people in federal databases. If the real reason for this expansion of government were terrorism, the United States would include Saudi Arabia in all of its actions to thwart the threat. In fact most of the 9/11 bombers were from Saudi Arabia. But it does not. If the reason to expand government is to slow the “towering wave” of immigration crashing across the southern border, then there is actually no reason at all. Immigration from Mexico slows and even reverses in some years. See here, here, and here. Indeed, in some recent years, more Mexicans have returned south than come north. In fact, the real reason for all of this federal action can only be to scare the people and increase the size and scope its power. And wherever government grows, a share of liberty is lost. None of this is to say that the borders should be wide open. The idea that a state must throw its borders open is to declare an invincible ignorance of history and the threats in the world. Nor is any of this to say that we should coddle foreign felons within our borders because we are so superbly virtuous. Those who cause violence or harm to others should be given no quarter—they should be deported or vigorously prosecuted. That said, crimes without a victim, such as possession of marijuana, should not be crimes at all, which would in itself reduce much of the danger associated with the border. The idea that a great deal of the immigration rhetoric is a scare tactic meant to empower government and that there is a real danger from particular individuals from foreign lands are not mutually exclusive. They can both be true. It is, instead, to say that we must must be most vigilant with the greater threats to our freedoms. We must look at the solutions proposed to every problem and ask first if they reduce liberty or expand government. And then there is the matter of entitlements—the actual fuel that keeps this fire burning. The vast array of unconstitutional government benefit programs which have pushed aside the role of private charity in this nation are a significant part of the reason it is all but bankrupt. People, corporations, causes have figured out that they can vote themselves money, and it may well be our downfall if not addressed. The unfairness of giving these benefits to people who have come across the border improperly cannot be denied. Obviously, it’s not the fault of undocumented immigrants that the people of the United States keep electing leaders who can’t control themselves. The last election cycle went by with only the shallowest of lip service paid to the national debt, but a vast array of new spending was promised by both sides, and there was little or no outcry from the population. Instead of a wall, if that energy were used to (1) cut all of the varied entitlements to undocumented immigrants, (2) punish those of whatever nationality in the United States who help them secure fraudulent identification or who knowingly or negligently accept these papers and (3) revitalize vigorous private charity in this area and commend the religious institutions that do so, the problem would be far more likely to be solved, and the size of government would decrease instead of increase. And make no mistake – the increasing size of the government is the real danger to true freedom and long-term security in the United States: Answers that grow government are no answers at all. This article was originally published by the Tenth Amendment Center. John "JD" Pierce is a property and constitutional law attorney in the State of Florida, an adjunct law professor at a law school in Tampa Bay, a registered Libertarian and a columnist for the Tenth Amendment Center.