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Published on February 14th, 2012 | by Saira Khan
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="567" caption="Syrian military forces, April 2011, syriana2011 ©"][/caption] With a population of 23 million, Syria is a pivotal state in the Middle-East. The Arab League’s handling of the situation is not effective. It proposed Syria withdraw forces, free prisoners, allow in foreign journalists and Arab diplomats and engage in talks with the opposition. This was met by the freeing of a few hundred prisoners, admission of diplomats and nothing more. Recently, the alleged escalation of bloodshed forced the Arab League to suspend its Syrian unrest monitor mission. Russia offered to host negotiations in Moscow between the Assad regime and opposition forces but the offer was rejected by the Syrian National Council – the head of the opposition – as time spent negotiating and delaying the ousting of Assad is time spent in repression and time spent dying. So why hasn’t the international community intervened? A cost-benefit analysis of intervention in Syria will show us that it is not in our national interest to save those lives and end that repression.

  • Syria has a functioning military.
  • Syria has allies such as Iran that must not be provoked.
  • Syria’s protests are spread in different regions. There is a lack of cohesion between protesters and diverse activity from different groups.
  • There is insufficient media coverage.
  • Intervention and sanctions are opposed by Russia and China, who would veto a UNSC resolution.
  • Russian and Chinese arms and economic agreements must be protected.
  • Assad has a political connection to Russia.
  • NATO lacks the legitimacy to intervene with its failure to bring Jeffersonian democracy to Libya, also amongst Russian demands for UN scrutiny of possible crimes in the Libya air campaign.
  • There is a sectarian conflict.
  • Saudi Arabia and Israel may benefit from the situation as it weakens Syria’s links with Iran and Hezbollah.
  • There is no guarantee that violence and repression would stop even under a new regime, unless massive foreign manipulation were to be involved.
  • There is no guarantee that an Islamist group will not take over after Assad or any government which holds an aggressive stance towards Israel and the USA.
  • With armed rebels, the situation in Syria has become a civil war.
External actions in civil wars tend to be half-hearted and comparatively short-lived. There can be disproportionate use of force, indiscrimination in civilian targeting and it is quite probable that many people would be killed whom the operation was intended to save. Not least because intrusion may generate popular resistance to imperial intervention, causing further uprisings and hence further military crackdowns. That Assad must be ousted is a largely undisputed requirement in the international community, but the means of how to achieve this is where we meet uncertainty. Any consideration of intervention is no longer intervention simply to protect human rights through negotiations and a ceasefire, but intervention to protect them via regime change. Geopolitical considerations inevitably play a role in this. Many believe the USA wants to cast itself as the liberator of Arabs, a rehash of colonial doctrines. However, it would be more accurate to describe the geopolitical situation as one of the USA-Gulf-Israel alliance versus the new Syria-Iran-Hezbollah 'axis of evil' and one of the results of the current chaos is the severing of the links in this axis. A weakening of the Shia population in Syria weakens Iran (predominately Shi’ite) and strengthens Israel (Jewish) and Saudi Arabia (Wahhabi), two pivotal allies of the USA in this region. Whilst ousting Assad is a necessary but not sufficient step to a free and democratic Syria, regime change should be in the hands of the Syrian people. Though the militarisation of the movement brought it to the international stage as a possible threat to international peace and security, external involvement will de-legitimise a very genuine movement for rights by polluting it with national interests and geopolitics. It is rather likely that intervention would result in the pursuit of a pro-Western Syrian government and a dictation of foreign policy requirements. It is true that foreign policy cannot be, and never is, in any democracy a result of majority decision but it should be the decision of a government set up without foreign influence, so that it may represent Syrian views. It may be true that the need to save lives now is more important than the negative consequences and instability for the Syrian people in the aftermath, but it is also true that this responsibility to protect will not be the sole -- or perhaps even primary -- reason for the international community to intervene, if it does decide to do so.

6

A Syrious Situation: Thirteen Reasons Why We Haven’t Intervened

Syrian military forces, April 2011, syriana2011 ©

With a population of 23 million, Syria is a pivotal state in the Middle-East. The Arab League’s handling of the situation is not effective. It proposed Syria withdraw forces, free prisoners, allow in foreign journalists and Arab diplomats and engage in talks with the opposition. This was met by the freeing of a few hundred prisoners, admission of diplomats and nothing more. Recently, the alleged escalation of bloodshed forced the Arab League to suspend its Syrian unrest monitor mission. Russia offered to host negotiations in Moscow between the Assad regime and opposition forces but the offer was rejected by the Syrian National Council – the head of the opposition – as time spent negotiating and delaying the ousting of Assad is time spent in repression and time spent dying.

So why hasn’t the international community intervened? A cost-benefit analysis of intervention in Syria will show us that it is not in our national interest to save those lives and end that repression.

  • Syria has a functioning military.
  • Syria has allies such as Iran that must not be provoked.
  • Syria’s protests are spread in different regions. There is a lack of cohesion between protesters and diverse activity from different groups.
  • There is insufficient media coverage.
  • Intervention and sanctions are opposed by Russia and China, who would veto a UNSC resolution.
  • Russian and Chinese arms and economic agreements must be protected.
  • Assad has a political connection to Russia.
  • NATO lacks the legitimacy to intervene with its failure to bring Jeffersonian democracy to Libya, also amongst Russian demands for UN scrutiny of possible crimes in the Libya air campaign.
  • There is a sectarian conflict.
  • Saudi Arabia and Israel may benefit from the situation as it weakens Syria’s links with Iran and Hezbollah.
  • There is no guarantee that violence and repression would stop even under a new regime, unless massive foreign manipulation were to be involved.
  • There is no guarantee that an Islamist group will not take over after Assad or any government which holds an aggressive stance towards Israel and the USA.
  • With armed rebels, the situation in Syria has become a civil war.

External actions in civil wars tend to be half-hearted and comparatively short-lived. There can be disproportionate use of force, indiscrimination in civilian targeting and it is quite probable that many people would be killed whom the operation was intended to save. Not least because intrusion may generate popular resistance to imperial intervention, causing further uprisings and hence further military crackdowns.

That Assad must be ousted is a largely undisputed requirement in the international community, but the means of how to achieve this is where we meet uncertainty. Any consideration of intervention is no longer intervention simply to protect human rights through negotiations and a ceasefire, but intervention to protect them via regime change. Geopolitical considerations inevitably play a role in this. Many believe the USA wants to cast itself as the liberator of Arabs, a rehash of colonial doctrines. However, it would be more accurate to describe the geopolitical situation as one of the USA-Gulf-Israel alliance versus the new Syria-Iran-Hezbollah ‘axis of evil’ and one of the results of the current chaos is the severing of the links in this axis. A weakening of the Shia population in Syria weakens Iran (predominately Shi’ite) and strengthens Israel (Jewish) and Saudi Arabia (Wahhabi), two pivotal allies of the USA in this region.

Whilst ousting Assad is a necessary but not sufficient step to a free and democratic Syria, regime change should be in the hands of the Syrian people. Though the militarisation of the movement brought it to the international stage as a possible threat to international peace and security, external involvement will de-legitimise a very genuine movement for rights by polluting it with national interests and geopolitics. It is rather likely that intervention would result in the pursuit of a pro-Western Syrian government and a dictation of foreign policy requirements. It is true that foreign policy cannot be, and never is, in any democracy a result of majority decision but it should be the decision of a government set up without foreign influence, so that it may represent Syrian views. It may be true that the need to save lives now is more important than the negative consequences and instability for the Syrian people in the aftermath, but it is also true that this responsibility to protect will not be the sole — or perhaps even primary — reason for the international community to intervene, if it does decide to do so.

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  • Lowe

    "It is true that foreign policy cannot be, and never is, in any democracy a result of majority decision "
    LOL is that democracy then?

    I think Iran is the biggest problem at the minute for Syria…ie. we can't intervene because Iran might take offence…syria needs all the publicity it can get now!

    • Saira Khan

      Lowe,

      What ever happened to your resolve to write something nice? Well, I didn't intend to imply that that was actually democratic — true democracy is practically impossible — the fact is, the statement that foreign policy is not a result of majority decision rings true for any government we call a democracy today!

      Iran is a big factor. However, I think the biggest may be the general disillusionment with intervention as a whole. NATO is seen as illegitimate. If interventions up until now had been perfectly successful, I do not think the threat of Iran would stop another in Syria, but they have not been perfectly successful.

      Saira

  • Your site was tweeted by a friend last night. Figured I’d give it a look. Best decision ever.

  • Nice post! I have added your site to my favs. will be back again tomorrow hopefully for more great posts!

  • Saira Khan

    Thank you!

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