In 1968 a US Army major said of the attack on Ben Tre that 'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it'.
Whatever the accuracy of the quote, it summed up well the popular perception that the US in Vietnam had lost sight of the value of human life, and thought only in terms of short-term tactical objectives. Following the weekend's latest Friends of Syria meeting in Doha, the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamid bin Jassim al Thani had his own Ben Tre moment when he allegedly told the gathering that 'Arms may be the only way to achieve peace.'
But the elegant use of words to disguise naked self-interest didn't stop there. British Foreign Secretary William Hague later tweeted that 'Strong common ground in Doha on aid and a political solution, cannot be achieved if Assad thinks he can destroy the democratic opposition'.
Not even the Americans have been delusional enough to pin the label 'democratic' on the (nearly universally Sunni male) rag tag bunch of Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, secularists, deserters, disenfranchised Syrians and opportunists who have held an in-house election under pressure and with largesse from their allies.
That tweet really sums up the gulf between Arab states and the West on the issue of Syria. The Gulf states just want Assad gone and replaced by an anti-Iran, pro-Sunni leader of whatever persuasion and they think weapons will achieve it. The West thinks (at least publicly) that it can achieve some form of democratic transition.
Little by little, the West is taking sides in a sectarian war. Given that the Friends of Syria group comprises Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt as well as the US and some European countries, it is not terribly difficult for the Shi'a to construct a narrative in which the West is in league with a Sunni world that is fixated on reducing the political power of the Shi'a.
This view plays neatly into Shi'a historiography, in which Shi'a see themselves as repeatedly forced to take up arms against their (largely) Sunni oppressors, and some recent events: Shi'a demanding political rights in Bahrain were suppressed by regional Sunni states who come to the rescue of the Khalifas; in Egypt four Shi'a were killed after the government gave the green light for jihad in Syria and Salafist clerics whipped up local Sunnis into an anti-Shi'a lather; bomb attacks against Shi'a in Iraq and Pakistan targeted the community not because they are pro-Iranian but because they are not 'real' Muslims.
Syria is now considered the front line in the millennia-old war between the branches of Islam. The more the US feeds the conflict, the more it becomes allied to the religious identity of its Sunni allies. The more it underwrites the Sunni opposition and sides with the regional politics of Sunni autocratic regimes, the more it makes itself part of a sectarian conflict that has no logic and defies resolution.