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Stay out of Syrian maelstrom

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 8:59 p.m.

“In Syria, I will work ... to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.”

This commitment by Mitt Romney has thrilled the neocons as much as it has unsettled the realists in his camp. And the reasons for the latter's alarm are apparent.

Last year, U.S. jets scrambled to defend Benghazi against the “tanks, helicopters and fighter jets” of Col. Gadhafi. Now we are investigating the murders of our ambassador and three Americans in the city we saved.

To bring down helicopters and fighter jets would require U.S. F-16s over Syria or putting surface-to-air missiles in rebel hands. Do we really want to be passing Stingers around a no man's land where al-Qaida agents could buy up a few to bring down U.S. airliners?

Before we get into our fourth war in 12 years, let us consider the antagonists.

This is first a religious war with the Shia regimes — Hezbollah, Iran and the Iraqis we brought to power — lined up behind Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Aligned against are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been sending arms to the rebels, and Turkey, which has allowed the transfer of arms.

Among the rebels fighting Assad, however, are Islamic jihadists from across the Middle East and al-Qaida. And should Assad fall, his successor likely would be a Sunni favorite of the Muslim Brotherhood.

If Damascus falls to the Brotherhood, the Christians Assad sheltered would face the fate of the Copts in Egypt and Christians in Iraq: terror, persecution and expulsion.

Then there are the strategic stakes. If Assad falls, the Shia crescent — Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon — is severed. Vladimir Putin's navy, whose last base in the Mediterranean is Tartus on Syria's coast, would suffer a strategic defeat.

And Israel? While nothing would please Israelis more than a strategic defeat for Tehran, Assad and his father kept the peace on the Golan for 40 years. And as the Sinai is turning into a no man's land with Hosni Mubarak gone and the Muslim Brotherhood in power, might not the same happen on the Golan when Assad falls?

How long would Americans support an administration that embroiled us in this maelstrom?

In the last week, shells from Syria have landed on Turkish soil. Is the Syrian army doing this deliberately? That makes no sense.

Are these mortar shells landing in Turkey a result of artillery duels between the Syrian army and rebels? Or are the rebels doing it deliberately to provoke Turkey into entering the war?

The Turkish line toward Syria is growing more belligerent. Are the Turks seeking a clash with the Syrian army so Ankara can invoke Article 5 of the NATO treaty and force the United States to join Turkey in ousting Assad, if not on a march to Damascus?

Yet what vital American interest is there in who rules in Damascus to justify yet another U.S. war in the Middle East?

While the Assads are despotic, George H.W. Bush made the father an ally in Desert Storm and Ehud Barak offered to return to Hafez Assad the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace deal.

If America has a vital interest in this multisided war, that interest is served by staying out, as we have done for its duration.

Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”

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