The Christian faith has a long and powerful testimony in Syria. St. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, and Christian traders spread the Christian message of salvation on Syrian trade routes beginning in the first decades of the Christian era. Thus, for all of us who are Christian believers, we should feel a close affinity with the suffering Christian believers in Syria. Much is being written about Mr. Obama and the winds of war coming to Syria from the United States. Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, asks whether Mr. Obama knows he is fighting on Al Qaeda’s side. He writes:
If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida. . . . . The men who destroyed so many thousands on 9/11 will then be fighting alongside the very nation whose innocents they so cruelly murdered almost exactly 12 years ago. Quite an achievement for Obama, Cameron, Hollande and the rest of the miniature warlords. This, of course, will not be trumpeted by the Pentagon or the White House – nor, I suppose, by al-Qa’idea – though they are both trying to destroy Bashar. So are the Nusra front, one of al-Qa’ida’s affiliates.
Defense analyst Anthony Cordesman wrote an interesting article earlier this week entitled, “How to Wage War Against Assad.” Mr. Cordesman observed:
The U.S. has hard choices to make in Syria. Even if the U.S. does intervene militarily, the time window for its best option has already passed. President Obama may have had reason to be cautious and play King Log to President Bush’s King Stork, but the U.S. did not intervene when the rebels were strongest, the Assad regime most fragile, and limited U.S. support to the then dominant moderate rebel factions might well have pushed Assad out of power without dividing Syria along sectarian and ethnic lines. Every option today comes up against the reality that Assad is now far stronger, the country is increasingly being split into Assad and rebel controlled sections, the rebels are fractured and rebel forces have strong Sunni Islamist extremist elements, and the nation is increasingly polarizing into an Alawite and more secular Sunni and minority bloc, a Sunni Arab bloc, and a Syrian Kurdish bloc. In practice, this means there is no way the U.S. can quickly use any amount of force to destroy the Assad regime with any confidence that Syria will not come under Sunni Islamist extremist control, or divide into Alawite, Sunni, and Kurdish blocs in ways that prove to be even more violent and lasting than such sectarian and ethnic divisions have in Iraq.
With these options, Edward Luttwak observed in The New York Times that “the Obama administration should resist the temptation to intervene more forcefully in Syria’s civil war. A victory by either side would be equally undesirable for the United States.” Is it any wonder then that recent polls show that support among Americans for an attack on Syria is more than three times lower than support for US involvement in Vietnam at the lowest ebb of the war, illustrating how universally unpopular Mr. Obama’s military assault against Syria would be.
Before the Syrian civil war erupted in March 2011, the Christian minority of 2.3 million, less than 10% of the population, enjoyed reasonable freedom and peace during al-Assad’s reign. Although Syria is a predominantly Muslim country, its constitution includes a provision affirming the freedom of religion under which Christians and a variety of other religious minorities received relatively equal treatment with the majority Sunni Muslims. But with the start of the civil war, and the arrival of extremist Islamic fighters, the Christian community has suffered persecution by the allies of Mr. Obama merely for being perceived supporters of the al-Assad government. I understand that most Syrian Christians view this conflict as not being their fight, and want no part in it. But the rebels, supported by major European nations and Mr. Obama, include al-Qaeda militants, rebel bands declaring Jihad, and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are fighting to gain power. And these rebels hate Christians.
Further, there is now a major refugee crisis as Christians and others seek to escape war-torn Syria. Tens of thousands of Christians fled to Lebanon where the conflict threatens to spill over. Hundreds of Christian families have fled to Greece putting themselves in the hands of human traffickers to take them through Turkey. The Turkish borders with Syria are controlled by the Free Syrian Army which does not permit Christians to cross over. Some Christians reported that at the Turkish border they are told, “You are with Assad. You can stay here and be killed with him.”
In this world of realpolitik, it appears to me that Mr. Obama and other European powers have failed to consider the implications of military action for Syria’s minorities, including Christian believers. Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have spoken out against Mr. al-Assad, rightfully condemning horrific atrocities committed by his troops. But nothing has been said about the atrocities committed by the Syrian opposition. We can certainly expect that if Assad falls, the Christians of Syria will no longer be welcome in the country where they and their ancestors lived for millennia. Where will they then go?
Please pray for the Syrian people and, in particular, for the Christians of Syria. In Titus 3:14, we are reminded to “let our people also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs.” Let us also pray for the Syrian refugees that they can find safe havens away from the war zones. Finally, let us join together to pray that Mr. Obama and his European allies realize that that condemning one evil must not condone the support of another. This might just be a good time to re-read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August , where she identifies how poor judgment and hesitation by governmental leaders, and misunderstandings and small mistakes led to the cataclysm of World War I. It could also happen again. And as Iran has threatened Israel with “thousands of missiles” if the US attacks Syria, let us also pray for the peace of Jerusalem as we are taught in Psalm 122:6.