published Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Cook: The devil you know

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 or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
nucanuck said...

By exploiting the sectarian divides with arms and money within the Middle Eastern enemies of Israel, the US and Israel have been able to destabilize and foment civil war within those countries with minimal visible involvement. If Americans only knew what was being done secretly to disrupt and intervene in other countries by our government, they would be sick and ashamed.

Syria may turn out badly for the US and Israel because Russia and China are not willing to abandon an ally. Assad's government now seems to have the upper hand. What an irony if the Sunni majority is driven from Syria as refugees into the neighboring countries that opposed Assad. What a price they will pay and what a boost Russia and China will get in world affairs.

We are watching power and wealth being transferred from West to East. It is beginning to look like a Megatrend.

June 12, 2013 at 1:39 a.m.
marmadukegarcia said...

A rare level-headed column from Handwringer Dave. Good job.

Of course, he still belongs on the opinion page. Putting an opinion columnist on the top front of the local news section makes the TFP look biased and unserious.

June 12, 2013 at 8:25 a.m.
klifnotes said...

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

There really isn't true democracy in the west. Just a pretense of such. There's actually a mixture and hodgepodge of democracy and a lot of other stuff thrown in. And western religion does play a defining role in America's politics and government. The two have never been separate.

June 12, 2013 at 9:16 a.m.
LibDem said...

I agree, Mr. Cook. The war in Syria is a struggle between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Most Americans have no dog in this fight.

(klifnotes, America is definitely a theocracy and it's hard to argue that doesn't impact our foreign policy.)

June 12, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.
jjmez said...

nucanuck said... By exploiting the sectarian divides with arms and money within the Middle Eastern enemies of Israel, the US and Israel have been able to destabilize and foment civil war within those countries with minimal visible involvement

Things going as planned, no doubt? Exploiting tribal and sectarian differences and getting countries to go to war against one another internally is the way things have always been done. Native Indians against Native Indians, African against Africans.

June 12, 2013 at 12:12 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

I predict that the US will be arming Syrian rebels within two months. I suspect that some US service personnel will refuse to take part in another useless war and that if required to do so sabotage will begin to happen as in Vietnam.

Do you want your husband, wife, son, daughter, or friends to die in another civil war, military invasion, military occupation — for corporations, corrupt generals, and war-mongering politicians?

For many, this will be the last straw.

When Corker, Alexander, McCain, Graham, and all the others whose portfolio will be enhanced by yet another military excursion to build US Corporate Empires are air-dropped onto active battlefields perhaps they'll be less demand for war.

But these types are only interested in your blood and guts while their power and bank accounts increase. Shame on them!

June 13, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.
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