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A ‘Damascus Plan’ for Syria’s Christians and Other Minorities

Nina Shea

Our allies among the Syrian rebels have issued a memorandum to the State Department on strategies for the day after Assad falls. David Ignatius reports in his column today that the Free Syrian Army (SFA) has outlined a “Damascus plan” for “handling the power vacuum in case of a sudden Assad collapse.” This plan is grossly flawed.

Not the least problem, as Ignatius points out, is that the plan relies on the United States presumably using American troops to  take out not just Assad’s stockpiles of chemical weapons but also the command and control for them. President Obama and his chief congressional supporters have ruled out American boots on the ground in Syria. Right? (See Andrew McCarthy’s important observation regarding this pledge.)

Another crucial point in the rebels’ strategic memorandum involves revenge killings. This is a major concern, as the Syrian conflict is at its core a civil war within Islam. The regime identifies with the minority Alawite sect that is allied with Hezbollah militias supported by Shiite theocratic Iran, while the rebels, largely Sunnis, are bolstered by al-Qaeda terrorists and other Sunni jihadist fighters and supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Sunni regimes. Christians, who account for 10 percent (or more, when Iraqi refugees are counted) of the population and who have not taken up arms in this conflict are viewed by the two sides as aligned  with the regime. They are the most vulnerable, since they have no militias or army to protect them. 

On this issue, General Ziad Fahd, a top rebel commander,  told  Ignatius in a telephone interview yesterday, “‘I don’t anticipate revenge killing,’ adding  that his forces would ‘look to the courts’ to prosecute any crimes by the regime.” Protecting the Christians does not seem to figure into the strategic plan at all. Nor was it a concern mentioned by Ignatius, though he takes issue with Fahd’s optimism in minimizing the possibility of revenge killings against the regime. 

As I reported on NRO in July, the Christians of Syria have already suffered massive reprisals. Since then, attacks against them have only intensified. For two days this week, the ancient mountainside Christian village of Maaloula, just north of Damascus, has been shelled by rebels from a position of higher ground. Many Syrian Christians have fled to Lebanon, but those who remain report that they fear “ethnic cleansing.”

Leaving aside the questions of whether the U.S. will strike Syria and whether the rebels are already near a turning point at least around Damascus and in the south, as some experts think, the SFA’s Damsacus plan deserves serious consideration. It is the only publicized strategy from any of our allies. Within Washington think tanks, the more serious pro-strike advocates are debating considerations similar to those raised in this document.

Christians can forget about the White House priority of R2P (Responsibility to Protect) as it applies to them. As Professor Mark Movsesian of St. John’s University Law School’s Center for Law and Religion noted, few in Washington are even bothering to ask what impact American strikes will have on Syria’s sizeable but defenseless Christian minority.   

The American people and their political representatives must raise the issue of reprisals against Christians and other minorities. It is clear that neither our allies on the ground nor Prince Bandar and their other benefactors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf care.

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