For Whom Syria Tolls

PARIS – With every passing week, the Syrian conflict increasingly resembles the Spanish Civil War. The images of warplanes bombing civilians and destroying cities have turned Aleppo into a latter-day version of Guernica, immortalized in Picasso’s masterpiece. But the real similarities between the two conflicts are to be found in the behavior of the international community’s main actors, which have again taken opposite sides.

On one side stand Russia and Iran, cynically determined to buttress President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. On the other side stand the established democracies, hesitant and ambivalent in their support of the rebels. In 1930’s Spain, of course, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy fully supported General Francisco Franco’s rebellion, while the democracies reluctantly offered scant help to the Spanish Republic.

There are even deeper similarities. Many argued at the time that support for republican Spain meant helping the far more dangerous anarchists and Communists at a time when the Soviet threat in Europe was growing. In that sense, yesterday’s Reds have become today’s “fundamentalist Muslims.”

Indeed, for many nowadays, helping the Syrian rebels is too risky, and might even jeopardize the Middle East’s Christian minorities. While the Syrian regime is odious, they argue, the choice is between a hypothetical hope of democracy in the Muslim world and the real risk of endangering Christians’ lives. Unfortunately, therefore, one must choose the status quo.