Op-Ed: Will military intervention work in Syria?
As the raging violence in Syria continues to take its toll on civilians -- with the recent mass-murder at Houla bearing particular salience -- one feels the need to re-examine the perceived necessity for military intervention.
Unfortunately for Syria -- and the wider region -- the Assad regimes violent crackdown against the opposition in that country seems to be metamorphosing into an increasingly more bloody and violent civil war. This depressing development is taking place as the failure of the Kofi Annan's UN mission to impose a tangible ceasefire is becoming all the more evident. Naturally the question of military intervention is once again raised. But have circumstances changed? Does the situation in Syria demand military intervention? If so, would such an intervention alleviate the ongoing crisis there or instead be the catalyst that makes it even worse?
Writing about this very situation
and dilemma over two months ago I came to the conclusion through a broad look at the wider situation that an intervention may prove to be futilely ineffective.
TIME contributor Fareed Zakaria wrote a recent analysis
that attempts to address this very serious question. For the most part his piece provides the reader with a very sober and reasonable argument against military intervention, making essentially the same primary observable argument that I had, Syria isn't Libya, it is far from it. Furthermore the superficial perception that a Libya-like intervention could succeed in Syria needs to be thoroughly discredited if any headway is to be made in solving this complex dilemma.
Mr. Zakaria concludes his piece by stating that starving the regime may be the only solution for the meantime given the present situation on the ground there. Whilst the body of his article does sympathize -- as does this humble author -- with the view that when one is confronted with such horrific events -- like the recent massacre at Houla -- one is morally inclined to do whatever is in ones means to help those whose lives are in imminent danger. However, the choice of the word 'starving' in Zakaria's conclusion is an unfortunate one. One was reminded upon reading that conclusion of the horrendous situation in Iraq throughout the 1990's when U.N mandated sanctions starved children and the elderly whilst the Hussein dictatorship and its associated clique of elitists were able to continue business as usual (as proved by the fact that they maintained enough resources to build lavish and extravagant palaces in every one of Iraq's provinces).
How much abject suffering would the masses of Syrians have to suffer before a significant dent is felt in the vast business interests of the Assad family and its elitist business associates? And how much animosity towards the rest of the world would such crippling sanctions stir up among the Syrian populace?
It goes without saying that an intervention would need to be rigorously planned. Even after that an intervention would have to be precise and wary about public opinion in Syria. Would covert action or precision air strikes alone be enough to be able to crush the Syrian Baathist regime? That's the most salient issue that needs to be fully addressed and given careful analysis and scrutiny before a military intervention should even be seriously considered as a tenable solution to this crisis. If military action were to begin tomorrow, contingency plans would have to be put in place to prepare for hundreds of very possible and likely outcomes in order to ensure that the action being taken will prove in the long term to have a tangibly solvent outcome for the Syrian people.
Joshua Landis the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies of the University of Oklahoma who specializes in Syrian affairs expressed a similar view in one of his recent analysis's
of the deteriorating situation. His clear contention and conclusion is that the rebels need to win the fight by themselves, the United States would be unlikely able to deliver a comprehensive victory over the Baath regime through military intervention. However Landis outlines that it can influence and support the oppositional elements through providing aid, arms and intelligence.
I share Landis's contention and agree with the conclusion he arrives at. I would further add that we (as far as 'we' constitute the “international community”) should provide the oppositional elements in Syria with support and help them in the long and harsh fight that lies ahead of them. Assad still has tremendous force at his disposal and is well able to effectively wield it. However we can effectively deter him through consistently exposing his many war crimes and consistently convincing the growing grassroots elements of Syrian society that favour regime change that they won't be taking their stand against Assad's oppressive regime in abject vain.
Arbitration by the United Nations has not only predictably failed, but has failed miserably, not only has it failed to at least lessen the violence (the goal was to bring a tangible ceasefire between the two warring sides) but has seen it increase substantially after the ceasefire it put forth was scheduled to take effect!
Large swaths of the Syrian public who are getting caught in the crossfire and who are suffering the brunt of the regimes collective punishment measures and the indiscriminate bombings that have rocked Syria's major cities are unaligned. They are fearful of the Baathist police state that has been run by the Assad family for 40 years now and weary of the sectarian divides which that regime is trying to exploit and utilize to its advantage in order to divide and weaken any organized grassroots opposition.
Precision bombing isn't the answer to this problem. Instead a long term plan of tactical diplomatic action should be undertaken by the international community to bring about a transition, although things may get worse before they start to get discernibly better, our goal must be to reassure the Syrian people that their struggle won't be in vain, and that once they break from the shackles of this tyrannical and oppressive regime we will provide them with the necessary finance and know how with which to rebuild their country. Such a plan should definitely trump the necessity of a military intervention.