The flip-side of the strange bedfellows problem is the kindred enemies problem: Are we really ready to go to war against two million Christians?
According to Tony Karon's reporting in Time, President Assad hopes to keep Christians in his coalition by harnessing their fear of a radical Islamist takeover.
So far they seem to be sticking with him, and word of their allegiance is reaching American Christians. The evangelical press is reporting that Syrian
Christians fear Assad's fall and is quoting them as warning against foreign intervention. Catholic periodicals convey similar concerns, and illustrate
them with, for example, reports that Syrian rebels are using Christians as human shields. And Jihad Watch, the right-wing website run by Robert Spencer, a Catholic, bemoans what will happen to Syrian Christians as "Assad's enemies divide the
spoils of the fallen regime." (Spencer has in the past been skeptical of interventions, but he reaches conservative Christians who have been less
alliance between neocons and conservative Christians that has worked in the past is going to be harder to put together this time.
Maybe it's in recognition of this challenge that neocons have been downplaying the role of Muslim extremists. The Weekly Standard approvingly quotes John McCain saying that
Syrian rebels are "not fighting and dying because they are Muslim extremists." And, in a departure from tradition, the Standard is minimizing al-Qaeda influence in an Arab country, noting that claims of al Qaeda's presence in Syria are "without evidence."
If the neoconservatives' downplaying of the insurgency's radical element doesn't work, an alternative approach would be to try and turn lemons into
lemonade: One way to keep the fractured, ragtag rebels from "dividing the spoils" might be to impose order on them--lead from the front!
But the days when you could set up compliant client regimes seem to have passed, and even if they hadn't, the neocons' traditional rhetorical emphasis on spreading
democracy would complicate that project. Besides, the current state of Iraq should disillusion anyone who hopes to mold a post-conflict Syria into an
ally devoted to American ideals. And Iraq may be a best-case scenario. Witness Libya--where firm central authority has failed to emerge, and
devolution into warring localities is now possible. (Imagine being a Christian minority that sided with the deposed regime in that situation!) And the
Lybian opposition seemed more united, at the insurrection's outset, than the Syrian opposition seems now.
Another possible neocon approach would be to put uncharacteristic rhetorical emphasis on realpolitik: Depict Syria as the domino that stands between us and
Iran, a country whose place in conservative Christian demonology is secure. (This approach would have the virtue of aligning with what, according to
Leslie Gelb, is the actual driver of much neocon pro-interventionism.) Charles Krauthammer is espousing this domino theory, and Lee Smith's pro-intervention piece in the latest Weekly Standard says, "For the
United States, the key issue should be countering Iran." Maybe this will prove the most effective pitch to conservative Christians, given the downsides
of the other possible pitches. But that's a lot of downsides to overcome.