Syria, the shadow of Iraq, and false conclusions between them

The Iraq card alone has been overused to the point that it almost mocks the victims of tyranny.

Protest against Syria in London 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Olivia Harris )
Protest against Syria in London 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Olivia Harris )
The consensus last week seemed to be that democracy prevailed in the West because the will of the people was carried successfully. It goes something like this: against a grain of rogue politicians with their own agendas, a war-weary public in both the United States and the United Kingdom stood up through their representatives to decisively say no to any involvement in Syria's civil war. Across political lines, majorities everywhere came together to merge in opposition. Iraq became a key talking point, with social media taking a harsh tone in reminding the politicians what happens when Western countries get themselves entangled in another nation's problems. God forbid, they say, if US President Barack Obama or British Prime Minister David Cameron were to order a strike on Syria, the country could end up being another Iraq: destabilized along sectarian lines and wrought with unimaginable carnage.
This all makes for good measure if you have not been following events in Syria since early 2011, as the above fears and predictions have already come and gone without any kind of intervention from either leader. Knowing that, it must be said that there is something ironically and tragically wrong in the self-congratulatory praise Western democracy won from its adherents while the fate of untold thousands in Syria who have stepped up to ask for those same basic rights hangs in the balance. It is especially cruel because so many people fail to even solemnly respect this in light of a fair debate, including the British parliamentarians who erupted in scorn and laughter after they defeated the motion to intervene put forward by Prime Minister Cameron.
Still, there is even more irony. Protesters have gathered together to form “Hands Off Syria,” a group that insists through street demonstrations and their social media banners that confronting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad will turn the country into Iraq 2.0. The outrage though, as genuine as it seems and for reasons I will explain, is actually quite selective. Beyond the expected reactions to intervention that have for the most part been engineered out of the shadow of the Iraq War, there are two points that desperately need to be made. First, that the egregious situation in Syria which now includes hundreds of children slaughtered by toxic gas should forever put to rest the post-Iraq conclusion that a “strongman” – a dictator – like Assad or Saddam Hussein helps to maintain stability in chaotic parts of the world. There is practically nothing left that supports such an argument, not that there ever really was. The media, for its part, shoulders responsibility for promoting this because their reports out of Iraq from 2003 to today, have extensively portrayed it as a country thrown into chaos and violence, despite the fact such a way of life is all Iraqis have known for decades.
What they largely fail to say, and what Hands Off protesters generally ignore, is that the violence in Syria has actually outstripped Iraq in its darkest days, at least within the relatively short time frame the Syrian Civil War has been going on. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, nearly 5,500 people were killed in Syria last month, a far higher casualty count than even the worst months of the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq back in 2006, which saw around 3,000 deaths every four weeks. With such intense mayhem in their homeland, it should not be surprising that Syrian refugees are fleeing by the tens of thousands over the border and into Iraq, the country long humiliated by the media and held up to the world as the prime justification for leaving Syrians to their fate with Assad.
By no stretch of the imagination, do there remain many reasons for the international community, especially the US, to proceed cautiously on Syria or consider staying out completely – it's just that the Iraq card alone has been overused to the point that it almost mocks the victims of tyranny. Moreover, in order to have a truly legitimate debate about whether or not the world should intervene in Syria, it is important for everyone including the most vocal critics to recognize that intervention has already happened and has been sustaining itself for some time now – just not on the side of the opposition.
For decades, President Assad and his father before him have maintained a close relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran and its ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who views Syria as a satellite to project Iran's influence over the Middle East and has a major stake in the Syrian regime's ability to survive. Earlier in the year, as the crumbling Syrian Army was on the verge of defeat at the hands of rebel forces, the Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization Hezbollah staged a direct military intervention from neighboring Lebanon, flooding Syria with thousands of highly trained militiamen who have led the charge into a counter-offensive. Coupled with the deployment of his Revolutionary Guards to oversee and direct the offensives and several massive economic bailouts, Khamenei has thrown almost everything Iran has into propping up the status quo in Syria. Russia is right behind him, equipping Assad's forces with some of the most sophisticated weaponry the Kremlin has to offer, everything from artillery and guided bombs, to tanks and fighter jets.
Iraq has its lessons that were learned, but now that Syria has gone beyond a civil war, the ramifications of Assad and his allies winning should be carefully weighed against any benefits the West could earn by staying out of the conflict and focusing on their problems at home. Meanwhile, in regards to the protesters gathering outside the White House to demand a hands-off approach, attention should be shifted to the bloodied hands that are already on Syria and tearing away at its people. To knowingly ignore them while condemning intervention that has not even started yet is unconscionable.Corey Hunt is a freelance journalist based out of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2009 he spent three months studying Islam in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and has extensively covered narcotics trafficking in various Latin American countries. His website is