The Neocons` Ultimate Enemy
February 09, 2012, 12:26 PM
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Back to the well for one more college football analogy ...

Charles Krauthammer and some guy who used to run Mossad have been trumpeting in the Washington Post and the New York Times, respectively, how crucial it is for the U.S. to overthrow the Alawite minority regime in Syria in order to throw a spanner in the works of the Iranian juggernaut, which would be good for America, the whole world, and all intelligent life forms in the galaxy (plus Israel).

But would regime change in Syria bringing the Sunni majority to power actually be good for Israel?

Now, the Assad dynasty in Syria are from the weird quasi-Shi'ite (and perhaps crypto-Christian) Alawite sect. Being surrounded, both in their own country and in the Arab world, by Sunnis, the Assads have taken multiple steps to stay in power and keep their necks attached to their heads: they run a nasty secular Baathist police state, they insist that Alawites are Shi'ites, they've formed an alliance with the Shi'ites in Iran, they've transformed Alawite worship into an imitation of Sunni orthodoxy, and they tried to get some kind of secret nuclear facility, which the Israelis blew up in '07 in an incident that neither side wants to talk about.

They got beat by Israel in '67 and '73, losing the well-watered Golan Heights, and have since maintained a hostile but largely quiescent posture toward the dominant Israelis ever since. They know Israel can crush them like a bug, and so they try not to provoke Israel, and don't let anybody within their police state provoke them either. All in all, not as good a neighbor for Israel as Egypt was under Mubarak, but things could be a lot worse for Israel. Syria has been less trouble for Israel for the last 38 years than, say, chaotic Lebanon.

As a weak minority-run regime concerned only with staying in power at home and out of favor with other Arab regimes for sectarian reasons, Syria has hardly been one to make a lot of trouble for the regional superpower. But, unlike Lebanon, the Syrian regime has been strong enough to keep aggrieved locals from firing missiles into Israel, which would provoke Israel to come smash up the Assad family's shiny military weapons that it uses to keep the Sunnis down. 

Now, with the overthrow of Mubarak's secular regime and the rise of democratic ideology in Egypt, which, not surprisingly, has turned out to mean the rise of Sunni fundamentalists, why would Krauthammer and Mr. Mossad want to risk the rise of another Sunni regime on the opposite direction of Israel's suddenly worrisome border with Egypt? As you may recall if you were a stamp collector as a kid, back in Nasser's day in the 1960s, Egypt and Syria were briefly united into one country called the United Arab Republic. Not surprisingly, that didn't last long, but it was more worrisome for Israel than Syria being on the outs with the Sunni Arabs. Compared to Syria being allied against Israel with Egypt, Syria being allied against Israel with far-off Iran is a piece of cake for Israel. Moreover, the main complaint Israel has had against Syria is being a conduit for weapons for anti-Israeli forces in Lebanon and the West Bank, but we've seen the Arab Spring in Egypt bring more enthusiasm in Egypt for helping Gaza Strippers get missiles to fire off in the general direction of Israel, so it's not clear that bringing the majority to power in Syria will help even with that.

So, why can't the neocons leave well enough alone? Why the urge to meddle, to play the great game even when the risks for Israel seemingly outweigh the rewards? 

Because that's what neocons do. It's like asking a college football fan if they want their team to go to a bowl game. Of course they do! They want more action, they want something to look forward to. 

For example, my neighbor gave me a ticket to a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl last fall. It was immediately obvious that the Bruins were a terrible football team. They fumbled the ball, they had a hard time getting plays off before the clock ran out, their defensive backs fell down a lot: just a bad team. But that night, everything happened to bounce right for them and they somehow beat a much better Arizona St. team by a point. 

This was very exciting to Bruins fans because it put the team in position to go to not one but two postseason games. Now, rational bystanders might have said, "Oh, no, please, dear God, don't make UCLA play any extra games this season. Twelve is enough." 

But that's not how college football fans think. They want their team to keep playing. Since USC, which then beat UCLA 50-0, was ineligible for the post-season for flagrant USCishness, UCLA wound up in the Pac-12 championship against Phil Knight of Nike's Oregon, where they only lost by about 20. And then, their 6-7 record somehow or other got them into the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against another woeful team. And they lost, which made them the first 6-8 team in the history of college football. Woo-hoo.

Because UCLA qualified for two additional games, probably one or two players got seriously injured and, no doubt, a few flunked classes because they had to practice rather than study. But, from the perspective of the general welfare of the human race, war games like football are an improvement over war. A few crippling injuries and some concussions are a pretty small price to pay to give us non-lethal outlets for male combativeness.

Much like college football fans, just vastly more expensively in terms of lives and money (as the absurd Iraq Attaq demonstrated), for the neocons, banging the war drums and scheming, no matter how stupidly, are all part of the fun of being an Israel fan. 

For neocons in 2012, the true foe is not Iran or Syria or whomever. 

Their ultimate enemy is boredom.