By Kyler Ong
World leaders know that they have no reason to believe that Syrian bloodshed will come to an end anytime soon, or that Annan’s peace plan will even be half-achieved, if not without more aggressive measures from the international community – that is to say, military intervention. Yet, these leaders need to weigh the options and assess the potential cost of an all-out war. In regards to the U.S. (especially since the war-plagued region remains a crucial focal point in her foreign policy) the sole superpower of the world needs to tread carefully and restore confidence in its status and give the Syrians the promise Obama made in Cairo to stand up for the Arab people.
Weighing the options
While many pro-intervention critics compare U.S. military action in Libya to Syria (the United Nations Security Council declared the use of “all means necessary” to defend the civilians of Libya just a month after protests broke out), such juxtaposition is not the least fair, strategically. The dichotomy is clear: in the former, the opposition had substantial military power to fight against the Gaddafi regime; in the latter, the fragmented opposition has the zeal to fight but lacks the stomach and organization for a civil war. Furthermore, Syria has the backing of the Russians and Iranians, both of whom are major arm suppliers for the regime. Pro-interventionists also neglect that in Libya, the US had the full support from the international community, including the Arab states, and the Libyan themselves to justify an international humanitarian intervention. In the case of Syria, the same cannot be said. The truth is, however, even if Assad himself has not directly ordered the massacre of Houla and Qubeir (claims are on the Shabiba, “thugs” who are part of Alawite gangs who are intricately linked to the Assad regime), diplomacy will not stand as a viable alternative unless all sides, including Assad’s out-of-control “thugs”, put down their weapons and join the negotiation table (best with the pressure of the Russians). The opposition must also have a clear and consistent goal before any negotiations can take place.
With talks about a repeat of the Yemeni model, dialogues and democratic transition do appear to be the best option in any conflict. Foreign military intervention in Syria will only escalate this crisis into a large-scale international war with the US and her allies pitted against Assad, Iran, Russia and China (not forgetting also main Syrian opposition entities such as the National Co-ordination Committee who firmly denounce foreign military assistance). A higher risk Libyan-type intervention is the last thing the international community wants, but if bloodshed continues before the June 20 summit in Mexico, and if Assad keeps pushing the blame to terrorists (which will eventually backfire as the chance of Syria being another terrorist safe haven will only guarantee more a aggressive US stance), the world will have to expect something no one has the stomach for. Whatever decision the international community makes, any actions taken by the U.S. will be especially scrutinized by the Arabs and this episode of the Arab Spring crisis will serve to give the U.S. the opportunity to assert that its Middle Eastern policy is not solely based on self-interest, but is also motivated by a genuine humanitarian concern.