Bill Keller Has Completely Misread Syria’s Red Lines


Robin Edward Poulton PhD – The New York Times

Dear NYT,

The Public Editor wrote apologetically Sunday May 5th [2013] about the mistakes of the Times and Judith Miller over Iraq, when you swallowed NATO and US propaganda about WMD. Yet the very next day, Bill Keller writes a warmongering article that draws entirely the wrong lessons from the imperialist Iraq experience.

The civil war in Syria is an extension of the war in Iraq. The Sunni extremists came from Iraq, where Sunnis are fighting to regain power from the Shias: a struggle that started in the 7th century, when the Prophet Mohamed’s Qureishi tribe was defeated in battle by the Umayid tribe. Why would America get involved in that?

In Syria, the Sunni jihadist movement is trying to overthrow an Alawite minority that they consider Apostates = “must be killed”. The supporters of Bashar al-Asad are fighting to avoid almost certain genocide, since the Sunni slogan since 2010 has been: “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the graveyard.”  Oh yes, and the Sunni extremists also wish to destroy the world’s oldest Christian civilization, the Church into which St Paul was baptized in Damascus. Why would we support these nihilists?

True, the Alawites are a minority, led by a dictator who uses the threat of Israel to keep himself in power. Why would that bother us? The US supports a wide range of dictators in the region, all of whom want to destroy Israel: think Saudi royal family; think Qatari princes; think Bahrain where a minority Sunni clan rules over a Shia majority. What makes Bill Keller or John McCain or any other gung-ho armchair warrior in Washington think that an Al Qaeda-related Sunni regime in Damascus led by Al-Nusra or by the militant Muslim Brotherhood would be good for America, or Lebanon, or Israel?

There are two red lines in the Syrian desert: one concerns chemical weapons (which may or may not have been used); the other concerns Al Qaeda, a red line that was crossed two years ago. Even the NYT has finally recognized in its reports that Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda) leads the armed invasion of Syria. Bill Keller sees only one of these red lines. I see both.

Americans easily confuse “Leadership” with “Weapons”. Real Leadership brings Peace. Instead of adding firearms to a bloody civil war, let’s impose an arms embargo on all sides. Instead of pouring oil onto the fire, let’s join with Russia and force both sides to negotiate for peace. That is President Obama’s instinct and it is a far better option for everyone – including Israel, and especially for Syria’s Christians – than the armed jihadist alternative.

Yours sincerely

Robin Edward Poulton PhD, School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University.


Robin Edward Poulton PhD – Professor of French West African Studies (affiliate), School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University. Senior Fellow, UNIDIR Geneva, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. He has taught courses at VCU on the Modern Arab World and on the Causes of Terrorism.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 May 2013.

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