by Steve Wagner
Jeb Bush’s August 11th speech at the Reagan Presidential Library laid out a six-point blueprint for driving the remaining Christians out of Syria — unintentionally, perhaps, but effectively nonetheless. Each element of his plan for Syria was contrary to the interests of those beleaguered Christians. A point-by-point discussion of the plan and its defects is published here. Scott Walker gave a decidedly less substantive speech on the same subject at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., on August 28th, which also embraced policies contrary to the interests of Syria’s Christians.
By way of background, the Christian population of Syria was roughly two million before the civil war began in 2011 and is today under one million. Most of the Christians in Syria live in areas controlled by the government of Bashir al-Assad, with some living in areas along the border with Turkey governed by a de facto Kurdish government.
Firstly, both Bush and Walker are calling for the violent overthrow of Assad before the defeat of the Islamic State. This will plunge Syria into an even more violent competition for control between the extremist al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the more extremist Islamic State in which there will be literally no place for Christians to hide and which conflict will certainly spill over into Lebanon.
The greater monster in the Syrian conflict is the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL), not the Assad regime. The Anglican Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who knows Syria, put it trenchantly: “Whatever Assad’s crimes, he is a lesser monster than a number of extremist organizations in Syria of which ISIS is only the most extreme.”
Second, Bush and Walker would perpetuate the failed U.S. policy of trying to field a “moderate” opposition. U.S. efforts to field a force of “moderates” has been an epic failure. Immediately after the initial force of 60 fighters (at a cost of $100,000 per head) was put into the field, its leadership was captured by al-Nusra.
There is no moderate opposition in Syria — if by moderate one means tolerant of Christians and other religious minorities. Chaldean bishop Rabban al-Qas recently told me the only difference in behavior between the myriad of opposition forces in Syria is whether, on capturing a town, they will kill the Christians and take their homes, or take their homes but let them live.
Thirdly, Bush and Walker speak of greater collaboration with Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These nations do not share American interests in Syria, nor are they friends of the Christians. They support those who will drive Christians from their homes.
What is Lindsey Graham’s position? He is culpable for helping to goad the Obama Administration into making the violent removal of Assad the end of U.S. policy. So far, the anti-Assad international coalition has achieved neither the removal of Assad, nor the emergence of a “moderate” insurgency, nor the containment of the Islamic State, nor the protection of Christian minorities — at the cost of 220,000 dead, nearly 12 million refugees and displaced persons, and over $2 billion in U.S. government expenditure. Now Graham is doubling-down on this utter failure by calling for the deployment of 10,000 U.S. troops to Syria.
What the Christians in Syria need is an immediate cease-fire to preserve the city of Aleppo — a city with an ancient and gloriously diverse Christian population — a proposal which has thus far been rejected by the U.S. Then they will need the negotiation of an orderly transition to a post-Assad government. Until we know precisely what will follow Assad, we need to stop the nation-dismantling and focus on the defeat of the Islamic State. If Bush, Walker, and Graham gave a moment’s thought as to what the Christians of Syria need, this is what they would be advocating.
Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.