Cook: The devil you know

Cook: The devil you know

June 12th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Do not bomb Syria. Do not send weapons to Syria. Do not interfere with Syria.

Most of all, do not go to war with Syria.

"It is not the U.S's war," said Dr. Samir Rahbe. "Why do we interfere in every single thing that is none of our business?"

Over cups of coffee, with his daughter Samira sitting to his left, Dr. Rahbe -- Syrian by birth, Chattanoogan by choice -- spoke about the largest geopolitical crisis in the world today, the contradictions of American foreign policy and how the devil you know is better than the one you don't.

"I don't like Assad, but I am faced with two evils," Rahbe said.

In 2011, Arab Spring-like protests exploded throughout Syria -- the nation of 20 million that lies west of Iraq and south of Turkey -- as citizens called for the end of dictator Bashar Assad's reign.

Retaliation by the Syrian army turned protests into a widespread armed conflict that has killed at least 80,000 and sent more than 1 million fleeing into other nations, according to the United Nations.

Days ago, the U.N. warned that Syria is "unraveling."

Russia is shipping missiles to Assad's government; Israel has declared the beginning of a "new era of warfare;" a U.S.-initiated peace conference failed; the use of car bombs is on the rise in Syrian streets; France is considering arming certain rebel groups ... and the world waits to see what America will do.

"The policies of the U.S. are always pro-Israel, right or wrong," said Rahbe. "That is when people become radicalized. They see the complete double standard."

American foreign policy is ridiculed in the Middle East, he said, where our actions range from imperialism to hypocrisy. Look no farther than our petrol-allegiance with Saudi Arabia, a regime known for wide-ranging human rights abuses.

"They are the biggest dictators. How can you align yourself with a thug monarchy, then talk about democracy?" he said.

Rahbe sees two points very clearly. First, the leader-less mix of Syrian rebels will not produce some enlightened democracy. Rather, many of the rebel groups are supported by al-Qaeda-esque forces; their success would regress Syria into an even more restricted society bound by Sharia law.

Second, the main fight is Israel's, not ours.

"Syria and Iran are allies like brothers," he said. "This is [Israel's] major issue and they are pushing the U.S. to get involved in a war and bring Americans home in body bags."

Rahbe is Christian; so are his brothers, nieces and nephews living in Aleppo, Syria's largest city. Before the war, they lived in lasting peace with their Muslim neighbors.

"Like brothers and sisters," Rahbe said.

Now, each time his brothers leave the house, they say goodbye like it may be the last time they see one another.

"This sectarian war brings out the worst," he said.

Rahbe, an internal medicine doctor practicing in Cleveland, Tenn., moved to New York City in 1981 and fell in love with America. Then to North Carolina, where he fell in love again, this time with an American-born blonde. With their two children, they've lived in Chattanooga for more than 20 years.

Yet they always took a family trip back to Syria.

"In the summer, we would all go to the public pool and swim. We could talk with anyone and stay up late. We were always surrounded by people," said Samira, 19, majoring in English and education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

She has not been back to Syria since 9/11.

"I hate wars," her father said.

The future of Middle Eastern societies will depend on their ability to separate religion from government, Rahbe said. Until that can happen, the Syrian crisis will only be replaced by another, and then another, and then another.

"There will never, ever be democracy in the Middle East as the West knows it,'' he said.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.