As the Muslim world’s Sunni and Shia confessions tear at each other’s vitals along the Fertile Crescent from Mesopotamia through Syria and into Lebanon, some Americans’ regrets that we are not involved are based on the premise that this war is between moderates and extremists, and that our interest is to ensure the moderates’ victory. In fact however “moderation,” “extremism” and “al Qaeda” are categories that fit American prejudices better than they do than local realities. The war is about complex social, racial and religious hatreds accumulated over centuries.
Who wins and loses in Syria’s civil war is not in our interest and is beyond our control. Because that has been obvious since that war started two years ago, the American people’s consensus has been that the US government should steer clear of it. Now the Obama Administration seems to have decided to help the rebels, conveying its decision to the public indirectly and framing it in generalities: ending the slaughter and asserting America’s role in the region. But since its intervention cannot decide the struggle, it can only diminish America’s influence.