A plethora of anecdotal evidence and casual surveys all point to the fact that most Syrians want to see a free and democratic state emerge in their country. It is a sentiment that comes at a time when the Syrian anti-Ba’athist opposition is getting exponentially stronger and more diverse as Bashar Assad’s rule becomes more tenuous and troubled by his steady consistency of missteps and mismanagement.
However, most policy-makers in Washington have yet to become fully cognizant of the danger that awaits the region and ultimately the interests of democracies everywhere if a resolve to lend much-needed substantive aid does not emerge at this critical juncture as the seeds of a future liberal market economy in Syria are being planted.
Democracy transcends elections. It is a matter of a clean break from a past that has haunted Syria and other Middle Eastern nations for too long — a past beholden to failed ideologies predicated on hate and ethnic chauvinism. Without the proper logistical and moral support, the necessary institutions required to engender such a renewal can never properly compete and ultimately transcend the variant hostile and destructive ideologies that have been awaiting by the wayside waiting for a propitious opportunity to pounce and replace one dead system of governance with yet more of the same.
Democracy is about freeing minds and providing choices; real choices. In that regard, the United States is failing the people of the Middle East by merely insisting that elections are the sufficient benchmark for successful democratic emergence in the Middle East. This mistake may very well come back to haunt not only the Syrian people but the Palestinians, the Iraqis, and possibly the Lebanese.
Islamists in Syria, defeated in open battle by Ba’athist military forces, have taken to a more Fabian strategy (largely with Wahhabi financial support), and have been steadily building a loyal cadre that maintain no illusion on which type of system of governance they would like to see their fellow citizens live under. Though it is a current that does not have overwhelming popular appeal, recent history has shown us that the corruption and hopelessly inept governance of retread reactionary leaders like Hosni Mubarak, Yasser Arafat and Assad II have the effect of fanning the flames of discontent into the eager arms of those that offer some alternative to the drudgery of an unworkable status quo.
The Middle East has seen its share of ideologies that historically have stood against liberal pluralism and market economy. Religious groups, Communists, Ba’athists and pan-Arabists have historically controlled and continue in some measure to dominate the political landscape. Any election in Syria today will likely yield more power to demagogues that offer “national greatness” bottled with effectively the same content of the current dictatorship, only with a different label. Liberal proponents of democracy in Syria suffer a late start and a tremendously disparate access to the type of outside support that has entrenched the Hamases of the Arab world into the polity. Simply put, we need a boost; and like all inoculations if not administered properly with the sufficient dosage early enough, we risk reaching a point of no return where little, if anything, can be done to stem the tide of reckless governance in countries like Syria.
To paraphrase an American idiom, we seek to offer the Syrian people a choice, not an echo. Without U.S. support, the Syrian people along with the rest of the Arab world shall find themselves in a Catch-22 where elections only lead to further misery and freedom lays fallow in a field that was never attended to properly.
Real reforms, accountability and transparency constitute an agenda palpable to every social and age group in Syria, but it is an agenda that remains open to the danger of usurpation by ideological medicine men experienced at the art of manipulation and nihilist instigation.
Syria’s liberal voices need to be strengthened yesterday. Every moment wasted strengthens the footing of illiberal ideologies that see an opportunity to infuse themselves in a post-Assad/Ba’ath Syria. This is a matter that requires more than a passing glance and sympathetic nod; what is needed is the full attention and effort of a U.S. government that must shore up its credibility as a supporter of liberty in the Middle East by supplying the heavy weaponry of its moral and logistical support to the other frontline soldiers in this war on terror: the Syrian democratic resistance.