Syria: There Is No “Right” Side

Syria: There Is No “Right” Side

I’ll confess that I’m hopelessly torn when it comes to Syria’s five year old, bloody civil war. I became even more so today after reading a short piece by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “Fooled By Randomness,” one of my favorite books on markets.

I’ve gone back and forth on Syria as the conflict has deepened. On the one hand, I’m incredulous at the fact that Washington, with a straight face, is willing to fund and arm rebels who espouse substantially the same ideology as that championed by those who flew 747s into the World Trade Center towers. That said, I don’t know why I’m incredulous. The number one proponent of that ideology globally is none other than US ally Saudi Arabia (who, along with Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE, also support the Sunni extremists battling for control of Syria), so I suppose there’s really nothing surprising about America’s support at all.

Having said that, I’ve become less and less willing to accept the (frankly laughable) notion that Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and the mishmash of Shiite militias called over from Iraq are somehow liberators who should be praised for their brave battle against “bandits” and “the terrorists.” Here’s a table Taleb included in his piece:


And here’s an excerpt from the same piece:

Juxtaposition. The way to analyze the situation is to look at the factions comparatively.You do not compare Assad’s regime to the Danish or Norwegian governments, but to the alternative. The question becomes if there is anything in the left column that is worse than the right column?

First of all, I should note that Taleb has more first-hand experience with this than I ever will, and second I would add that there was a time when I would have wholeheartedly agreed with his assessment.

But now I’m not so sure. Why is rule by murderous tyrant necessarily preferable to rule by Salafi barbarians? I suppose there’s some sort of perverse utilitarian logic you could apply there whereby you would compare Mosul and Raqqa under ISIS to pre-war Damascus and Aleppo under Assad and say something like “see, no comparison.” But that’s misleading. Saudi Arabia is ruled by what amount to Salafi barbarians and although I wouldn’t want to live there, they’ve got all the trappings of a modern state too. Additionally, I’m no longer convinced of the argument that “you do not compare [fill in a Mid-East dictator of your choice] regime to the Danish or Norwegian governments.” Why not? Why do Mid-East dictators get a pass on that? And while living under Sharia law is certainly no walk in the park, I’m quite certain that living under autocratic rule where anyone in your family can simply be “disappeared” for no reason whatsoever isn’t a lot of fun either (Taleb himself admits that “Assad father’s operatives blew up my house in Amioun when my grandfather, then MP, voted for Bashir”).

Whatever the case one thing seems indisputable: the rebels in Aleppo are finished. Defeated. Wiped out. To corner them (along with women and children) in a 2km corner of a bombed out cityscape and then proceed to ethnically cleanse them is genocide and it wouldn’t be possible without the Russian air force and the Iranian ground presence. That’s just the long and the short of it.

I’m also relatively certain that from here, Assad, Russia, and Iran will hunt the rebels wherever they run and proceed to systematically kill them- again, that’s genocide.

In the final analysis, I’m not excusing the role played by America and the Sunni regional powers in facilitating this brutal conflict nor am I pretending to ignore the hypocrisy inherent in Washington’s support for Sunni extremism. But you know what else I’m not excusing? The fact that Bashar al-Assad is using this as an excuse to murder anyone who opposes him.

There is no “right” side here.

One thought on “Syria: There Is No “Right” Side

  1. Was interested to finally see this piece, particularly since you seem to be familiar with his work. His twitter is controversial and exciting, as are many of his statements. He mentioned a saying that he applied to such human affairs, where there exist parties on both sides trying to actively mold reality: “Trust none of what you hear, some of what you read, and half of what you see” (

    I feel like I will be returning to that statement many times in the future.

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