[…] Reporters working in Syria—most recently Robert Worth in an article in The New York Times Magazine—have converged on a single unhappy perception: far and away the largest and most capable groups of rebels are jihadists. That is a central fact of this uprising. But the fall of the town of Qusair to Hezbollah forces, in the first week of June, and the realization that Aleppo is also in jeopardy have turned the war so heavily in Assad’s favor that an all-out campaign for French, British, and American intervention has now been launched. The French “new philosopher” and journalist Bernard-Henri Levy did much to persuade Nicholas Sarkozy of the propriety of organizing a NATO war to overthrow Qaddafi; in a characteristic recent column for The Daily Beast, Levy nicknames Assad “the Syrian killer” and speaks of the danger that now threatens the morale and substance of the West:
The surrender of Aleppo to the death squads of Hezbollah would be a fresh eruption of carnage whose victims would be heaped atop the hundred thousand already claimed by this atrocious war against a civilian population.
He affirms that “Aleppo belongs not to Syria but to the world”—a stirring phrase of ambiguous import—and he numbers the recent crimes against civilization by Serbs and Islamists: “those past crimes haunt our collective conscience.” The failures of the West have all been failures to wage the necessary humanitarian wars against Slavic or Islamist fanatics.
It must be admitted that American policy has fallen short of demands like these. We sided with Islamist rebels in Afghanistan, under the name of Mujahideen fighters, and against the same rebels under the names of Taliban and al-Qaeda; we fought against them in Iraq during the 2004 insurgency, and stood at their side as paymasters and allies when they became the “Sunni Awakening” in 2007; we were against them in Mali, Somalia, and Yemen, but allied with them as the courageous militias in Libya; and now in Syria, we are both for them and against them—allies insofar as they agree with us in attacking the government, but opponents because they want to dominate or kill the moderate rebels to whom we intend to ship arms. We will wage war against them after they help us to win the war against Assad.
Still, the force of an impassioned and moralistic appeal for Western involvement in religious wars should not be underrated. The view a man like Levy espouses is just one remove from a policy-maker like Susan Rice, the president’s new national security adviser; and the liberal interventionists since 1999 have formed a section of the policy elite very proficient at linking war with conscience. They combine the adjective humanitarian and the noun war as glibly as the Communists a generation ago matched the word people’s with republic. In a proxy war like Syria—with France, Britain, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the US supporting the insurgents, and Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran (along with Iraqi and other foreign Shia militias) supporting the Syrian government—a policy of humanitarian war promises to double or triple the toll of human lives. Obama’s bad decision will only intensify the flow of arms from the puppet-masters. The external powers may snap their fingers at the idea of a regional conflict, but such a conflict is in progress, and the only question is whether it will be stopped early at the conference table, or late by a remnant of survivors picking among the rubble. The slide into this war by the US has been gradual, treacherous, and avoidable. It will be a long climb getting back out, and it will need the assistance of countries we prefer not to call friends. But after all Aleppo belongs to the people who live there and not the people we pay to die.