As slaughter continues in Syria, many people hope for a resolution or some kind of solution to emerge. Civilians are being shelled by artillery & fired upon by tanks, in what are indisputable war crimes.
In this environment, many question what US and NATO action should be taken. Senator John McCain is now criticizing President Obama’s lead on the issue. But does this actually recognize the situation — and realistically, what can be done?
Despite widespread horror, the freedom movement has not reached tipping point. The Assad regime remains in command of military forces, and has stepped up repression.
Syria is a much harder problem for US policy, than (say) Libya or Tunisia.
The problem is difficult, both because of Syria’s nature & conditions in that country; and because of Syria’s position, in a strategic context.
Let’s have a look at Syria & the rebellion for a start:
- Syria is one of the strongest & militarily most powerful Arab countries.
- Civil rebellion – the ‘freedom movement’ is civilian.
- Rebels are militarily weak — to avoid precipitating civil war.
Syria as a country, is economically & militarily far more powerful than Libya. It is also the historical heart of Arab culture & the “Arab Street” — thus actions & perceptions there, can resonate throughout the Islamic world.
Syria is also open to deep division. Ruled for decades by the minority Alawite sect, a more forceful armed rebellion risks dissolving the country into civil war.
Syria’s strategic position, also makes it less amenable to US policy:
- Syria’s capital Damascus, is the historical center of Arab civilization.
- Syria has been a traditional source of stability with the region; maintaining stable ties within the region, despite the neighbours being at war.
- Russian support – Syria is the region’s major Russian client state, receiving arms & projecting foreign policy. Their support for the regime is extremely strong.
- “Domino Unrest” is not (at all) a desired outcome of US policy.
- And, needing to “keep the powder dry”.
Since Syria has been one of the main sources of stability, in a dangerous & hostile region, Western policy is very reluctant to overturn this applecart.
The regime of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, did play for many years a crucial role in Middle East peace-making and generally maintaining tensions at a sub-boiling level.
But one of the most concerning factors, for State Department and Western diplomats, is the perceived potential for a “domino effect”; for unrest & successful revolution to continue along a chain, until it reaches & destabilizes or topples key Western allies.
Lastly, there’s the confounding factor of Iran. For US pressure & military options there, to be credible — the US must not already be busy elsewhere. In this regard, Syria must certainly be a second priority.
This author was an early supporter & public advocate, of Western support & intervention in Libya. (In the form of air support & coordination, not fighting their struggle for them.)
But, in Syria, it is much more difficult to say that there are clear & beneficial actions that can be taken. Would I like to do more? Yes.
What options, and should we attempt them? That question’s a lot harder.
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- McCain says US shouldn’t count on Russia to force out Assad, calls Obama policy ‘feckless’
- Syria: Russia refuses to change stance despite William Hague’s efforts
- Syria using rape as weapon against opposition women and men
- UN: Most of 108 killed in Syria were executed
How can we help in Syria? Add your comment now.