A case for intervention in Syria

by Alex June 4, 2012


or the past 14 months, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have protested for freedom. Despite the fact that the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, has killedthousands of people, many Syrians continue to fight for freedom. Some peacefully protest. Others, such as the Free Syrian Army, which is partially comprised of military defectors, have taken arms against the regime. Nonetheless, a bloody stalemate has ensued, with neither side being able to strike a decisive blow. In addition, although atrocities have been committed by both the opposition as well as the government, the majority of such crimes have been perpetrated by the regime. For example, on May 25, 2012, 108 people were murdered by regime forces in Houla, Syria.

There has been much debate over what the international community should do in response to the aforementioned war crimes as well as the continual slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria. Some analysts prefer economic sanctions and other diplomatic measures. Others prefer some variant of military intervention. Regardless, it is highly unlikely that intervention will occur in the short-term. The Obama administration has argued against intervention and, with an election in November, is unlikely to risk upsetting an electorate that is war-weary. Likewise, NATO has shownno interest in intervening either. Russia and China are also unlikely to back any intervention and have even been against sanctions on the regime. They have, however, supported former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which calls for a ceasefire as well as withdraw of soldiers from the cities. Nevertheless, as shown by the massacre in Houla, Mr. Annan’s peace plan has failed. Thus, in my view, it is time for the international community to declare the Annan peace plan a failure and intervene in Syria.

I recognize, however, that intervention is not without risk. At 300,000 strong, Syria’s army is larger and more formidable than Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. It would also be more difficult to set-up a no-fly zone in Syria than Libya, especially because of its more advanced air defenses. Just as important, due to Syria’s geographic location, any intervention could result in a regional war and there are concerns of instability, especially with recent bombings of government installations. Plus, there is resistance to military action in the western world because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as economic hardships in both the United States and Europe. Many are understandably war-weary and reluctant to support military engagement. However, I believe that despite the risks, military intervention is necessary and that there are strong moral and regional security arguments for intervention itself. In addition, I also believe that the aforementioned risks can be mitigated during an intervention.

The reason why I believe such an intervention is necessary is because diplomatic pressure alone has not worked in Syria. For the past 14 months, the United States, European Union, Turkey, and Arab League have used diplomatic tools, such as negotiations and sanctions to try to persuade President Assad to stop killing his citizens. Although such pressure has strained the Syrian economy, it has not ended the massacres. Neither have the Annan peace plan nor the Arab League monitoring effort. Instead, the latter efforts have only bought more time for the regime to continue its war crimes. Thus, like the late genocidal dictator Slobodan Milosevic, President Assad is undeterred by diplomatic pressure and has continued a brutal campaign of murder and torture.

It is unacceptable for the international community to allow such war crimes to continue. According to the opposition, over 15,000 people have been murdered in Syria andthousands have been displaced.  This toll will continue to rise as long as President Assad is allowed to continue killing people. Thus, there is a strong moral case for intervention. Such a case is strengthened by the fact that the United Nations Responsibility to Protect doctrine calls upon the international community to intervene to stop genocide and crimes against humanity. As explained above, crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria. There is a strong case for such crimes to be labeled as genocidal as well since the regime has targeted Sunnis.

In addition to the moral case, there is also a strong regional security case to be made for intervention. Inaction can lead to more instability and as a result, threaten already fragile security in the region. As columnist Ilhan Tanir argues in the Hurriyet Daily, the longer atrocities and international inaction continue, the more easier it will be for jihadist organizations to co-opt the revolution. This is because such groups would be offering assistance while the international community remains silent. Most Syrians reject such jihadist/terrrorist groups and will continue to do so, but allowing atrocities to continue will only give more time for these organizations to try to use the revolution for their own atrocious goals. The regime itself also has ties to extremist organizations and can utilize these groups to further destabilize the country. Intervention, on the other hand, could shorten the revolution and instability by toppling the regime. It can also show the people of Syria that the world will no longer remain silent about the atrocities.

Critics of intervention have charged that intervention will lead to more sectarianism. However, as Michael Weiss and Tanir argue in their report, The Case Against Non-Intervention in Syria, inaction itself may well lead to more sectarianism. As they have stated, Assad has created fears among Christians, Alawaites, and other minorities that if his regime is toppled, it will lead to Sunni backlash against minority groups. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the regime has largely targeted Sunnis. Thus, the longer inaction continues, the longer the regime will have to increase sectarian fears and foment tension.

Besides sectarianism, those against intervention cite fears of regional war. Unfortunately, a regional war is already underway and regional actions have largely benefited the regime. The Iranian government has sent troops and arms to assist the regime and has provided funds to keep it afloat. Contrarily, the Syrian opposition has only recently begun to receive military assistance from governments, having mostly depended on private smugglers beforehand. So, as the international community hesitates to act, Iran is providing the regime the weapons, soldiers, and money it needs to continue its atrocities. Intervention can help the Syrian opposition even the odds and topple the regime. Specifically, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey could provide special forces to train, arm, and unify the FSA, thereby making it a stronger and more effective and capable force. Airstrikes by NATO can further weaken the regime.

Intervention will not be easy, but concerns over the risks of intervention can be mitigated. For example, retired Lieutenant General David Deptula has stated that an aerial campaign on Syria could be successful, albeit difficult. Moreover, as Weiss and Tanir argued, Israeli air forces were able to successfully launch airstrikes on Syrian soil in 2007. Thus, Syrian air defenses are surmountable. In addition, the Syrian military may not be as strong as some believe. Weiss has mentioned that about 3/4 of Syria’s army have been relegated to their barracks, especially because the regime distrusts their loyalty. Moreover, many of Syria’s conscripts are Sunni. As a result, the Syrian military is not able to use its fullest capabilities and there is a possibility that more defections could occur, especially if the regime will be forced to call upon more troops- including those that it fears will be disloyal- to respond to a military intervention. Furthermore, Weiss also points out that many in the Syrian military may defect if an interventionoccurs. I also think that more defections will occur should regional special forces assist the FSA in launching operations throughout the country. By doing that, Assad’s forces would be spread out, which would cause much strain, thereby forcing the regime to deploy troops it fears will be disloyal.

Overall, intervention is risky but necessary and effective. Inaction, on the other hand, will lead to more deaths, sectarianism, and instability. In addition, the risks of intervention are mitigated by both weaknesses within the Syrian army as well as the fact that the Syrian air defenses can be overcome. Intervention does not necessitate large numbers of ground troops though. Rather, America’s regional allies can use limited numbers of special forces to arm, train, and organize the FSA. NATO can carry out airstrikes against the Syrian military. It will not be easy, but it can bring an end to the atrocities. Altogether, it is time for the international community to intervene in Syria.

Reprinted with permssion from: Poems For Syria Blog



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