Syria: Will it Ever End?

We have written often about the Assad regime’s butchery of the Syrian people at this site and have proposed an approach which while hopeful in the face of cynicism, denial and fear is at least a path that holds some promise of stopping what can only be diplomatically called “ethnic cleansing” and more directly is simply the mass slaughter of men, woman, and children by a despotic and demoniac government.

The end point is uncertain but its consequences are largely known and the price of international indifference is horrendous.  I do not mean to place the blame on the United Nations — which is in reality the simple instrument of its member nations and specifically the powers with vetoes on the Security Council. The vetoes by Russia and China have enabled Assad to carry on his carnage so far with impunity.

 The real villains are not the largely hapless UN which can only act if all its Security Council dominating members agree or a least abstain.  But rather the real “co-conspirators” are Russia, China, Iran, and to a lesser extent those nations that stand on the sidelines and condemn but do not act in any effective way against Assad and his enablers.

In the Washington Post op-ed page on Sunday, July 15, there was an article which advocated a more active military role by the U.S. In part, I agree with some of its presumptions and proscriptions but its specific call for American armed intervention has risky implications for the region and dangers for our personnel, and our role in dealing with other regional conflicts and mediation. Such overt military action may add to instability rather than enhance it, and indeed widen the conflict without solving the larger problems of the region.

Our overt military involvement may not be necessary. Where we can help is diplomacy by helping the contending forces in Syria and other powers in the region to commit to an end game that brings peace rather than more conflict.

The dog in the manger is clearly Russia and this is not addressed fully in the Washington Post op-ed. There are recent calls by Russia for a cease-fire but not for the replacement of Assad and his close supporters which clearly is the only outcome which will bring a reasonable solution that would be acceptable to the opposition army which as this is written is engaged in conflict in the Syrian capital, bringing home the reality of civil war to the Damascus population. The question is how far Russia (and Iran) are prepared to go to keep Assad in power as he continues to kill his people. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently stated to reporters: “Only a simultaneous end to violence is possible, followed by a simultaneous pullout of troops – both government forces and combat detachments of the opposition from all towns. We think that to achieve that, UN observers should be charged with coordinating a concrete plan with both sides for every town involved in a military confrontation.” Unfortunately this means leaving the real decision to Assad who has restricted observers whenever he desired. 

Russia also has said it will continue to use its veto to protect Assad. There will be a July 18th vote in New York on a Western-drafted Security Council resolution threatening President Bashar al-Assad with new sanctions. The International Red Cross yesterday declared the Syrian conflict a civil war, a status that could facilitate prosecutions for war crimes, the Associated Press reported. 

Government forces recently stormed neighborhoods in Deraa and used helicopters and heavy artillery in Deir al-Zour in the east of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement. It reported heavy fighting involving mortars and artillery also erupted in central Damascus late yesterday.

Hedging his bets, Lavrov reiterated that Russia isn’t backing Assad’s regime and the country’s “sole interest is to prevent the destabilization of the Syrian state.” “We aren’t taking any side in the Syrian conflict,” he said. This is a bit laughable given the supply of arms to Assad by Russia to assist the killing of civilians.

My argument has been to use, if necessary, both heightening sanctions outside of the United Nations context, and to insert armed peacemakers/peacekeepers made up largely of willing Arab League Members, others with neutral credentials, and with NATO member forces providing logistics and intelligence, medical and humanitarian supplies, and what I will call certain clandestine assistance to a hopefully emerging united and broad new opposition government which with little support has shown capability to hold large areas of Syria. Recognition of the expanded opposition would be a requirement for such an action.

But that government must accept in advance a presence of armed and large peacekeeping force with a strong mandate to prevent further massacres and revenge acts by the opposition groups. The model is that of the former Yugoslavia and specifically Bosnia. Yes, that means probably a long-term multilateral commitment to maintain a presence and to provide economic support for a country that has largely become a battleground. 

A new broad fair government along with an international force on the ground will give the citizens confidence that they are safe, that the rule of law will prevail, and that lives can continue in some normal way and over time perhaps wounds can be healed, but also that those directly responsible for atrocities will be punished through a fair judicial system including an international tribunal if required.

You comments are welcomed!

One thought on “Syria: Will it Ever End?

  1. Update on Syria:

    China and Russia vetoed the UN sanctions resolution on Syria that would have threatened the Syrian government with sanctions aimed at stemming the crisis. This failure dealt a final blow to the UN-Arab League emissary Kofi Annan peace plan – which is set to expire on Friday and so far has been severely restricted in its efforts. Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, condemned China and Russia for their veto, stating, “The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year”. This vote came a day after the bomb blasts in Damascus killed Assad’s top officials, including his defense minister and his brother-in-law. These bombings left people wondering about Assad’s whereabouts as he had not been seen in several weeks. A video was released Thursday by Syrian TV showing President Bashar al-Assad – the first images broadcast of him since the deadly attack.

    The bomb and the deaths of top Syrian officials demonstrate that even with mass killings by Assad’s security forces, the Syrian opposition has grown stronger and more resolute. But the balance of power remains unknown. Many have claimed that the army is losing control over large areas of Damascus, meaning that the revolution may have reached a critical phase.

    With the possibility of Assad being overthrown, Obama administration officials worked on contingency plans Wednesday for a possible collapse of the Syrian government or certainly a key phase of this conflict, including focusing particularly on the chemical weapons that Syria is thought to possess and that President Bashar al-Assad could try to use on opposition forces and civilians. Also the final fate of these chemical weapons remain a key concern.

    The main reasons for Russia’s obstructionist role in the UN’s efforts in Syria are concerns over Russia’s international position being under attack, the US role in the Middle East, and the possible undercutting of Russian influence in Syria. They face a high level of uncertainty for the outcome for Syria if Assad falls. CSIS Adjunct Fellow, Jeff Mankoff. Additionally, Mankoff argues that Russia is also skeptical about intervening in Syria as its aid in Libya did not play to their advantage. In Libya, the new government cancelled all oil contracts with Russia – so Russia gained nothing from this intervention. The Russian government has even higher stakes in Syria and does not want to risk them. The lesson Russians take from Libya is that they should never have intervened in the first place.

    What is needed is a deep re-think of the situation, the range of options, the possible consequences of radical unpredictable and bloody change and way that loss of life can be reduced and helping create the conditions for a “soft landing” for the Syrian people.

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