Many Syrian activists and rebels are now blaming the continued bloodletting by pro-Assad militias on American inaction. Nothing captures their frustration more than the name they assigned to this Friday: “America, haven’t you had enough of our blood?” America’s actions do not earn her many friends, but her inaction makes her even more enemies.
* Missing in the context of Syrian politics is often a synonym for dead. After all, we still have over 17,000 people missing from the crackdown of the 1980s.
* Should Obama get reelected, he would need a new Syria attitude, new Syria team, or both, because the previous policies that he has adopted so far have had disastrous consequences. Indeed, one of the strangest features of Obama’s approach to Syria was that he kept listening to the same set of people who had been advocating engagement with Assad under the assumption that he was truly a reformer. Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University and a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation, has some advice in this regard: The Case for Intervention... In Obama's dysfunctional foreign-policy team.
After embedding himself with a rebel group in Aleppo City, Benjamin Hall argues against military intervention for the following reasons: 1) growing rivalry and extremism among rebel groups, and 2) establishing a no-fly zone is an expensive proposition.
Great arguments, but here is the problem with them: they don’t provide a solution. The crisis in Syria has devolved to this extant exactly on account of western inaction. Toothless diplomacy hasn’t worked. With Iranian and Russian backing, Assad intends on staying the course. Spillover effect is already manifesting itself in Lebanon and Turkey. Continued inaction will allow extremism to rise even more, further fragmenting the rebel movement, and the country as a whole, providing havens for Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The specter of a wider regional conflict continues to grow.
Intervention in Syria is a must, and it will not be effective unless it has a military dimension: that means a no-fly zone and that means supporting certain rebel groups. If this is costly now, waiting will make it even more costly in the future.
Joseph Blady, Former program officer for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and senior analyst for the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, reiterates Hall’s concerns, but here it is where it gets weird,. Blady is aware of the potential regional implications of Syrian developments, but this is how he puts it:
Changes in Syria are likely to set off a chain reaction of some sort. Israel would be concerned about the uncertain attitudes of a new government. A Sunni takeover would make Hezbollah nervous and Lebanon messier in general. The Kurds of Syria would be free to make common cause with those of Iraq, Turkey and Iran, possibly resulting in a renewed quest for a Kurdistan that would try to keep possession of the oil wells in northern Iraq. Iran, in its quest for regional hegemony, would become more nervous through its loss of an ally. All of these possibilities would have implications for Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
This blasé attitude is quite troubling, because each reaction noted by Blady is a synonym for war in practical terms. Long before there is a Sunni take-over in Syria, a civil war will have unfolded in Lebanon. In fact, the trigger event for such civil war in Lebanon might have already taken place with the assassination of security chief Wissam al-Hassan. Meanwhile, and as Kurds in Syria assert their autonomy, Turkey is already set on a path of intervention, a step that will have dangerous repercussion for Iraq as well. This is not something that the U.S. can afford to let happen. You can sit this one out. As such, the interventionist path advocate by the Economist, which Blady finds objectionable, is actually the only rational approach at this stage.
Some Obama supporters are coming around to the need of intervention in Syria, such as David Igantius who, like Hall, recently spent some time in Aleppo as well. While aware of the pitfalls noted by Hall, he reaches a different conclusion:
… caution doesn’t mean inaction, and some modest changes in U.S. policy could make a big difference in outcome…. You don’t have to sign off on this whole war chest to agree that it’s time for the United States to experiment with strategies that could produce something other than the bad outcome that’s now ahead.
In commentary Magazine, Max Boot, also responds to Hall’s “Weak Case for Inaction in Syria”
Admittedly, stepping in to help topple Assad brings no guarantee of an idyllic post-Assad state–far from it. There is indeed, as Hall notes, a great danger of continuing instability and civil war even after Assad is gone…. There is no guarantee that the situation will be improved with Assad gone, but there is a guarantee that the situation will remain pretty awful as long as Assad is in power. And there is at least the chance that if the U.S. acts decisively, in cooperation with allies, to topple Assad, it will give us a greater say in the composition of a post-Assad regime, allowing us to help steer Syria in a more moderate direction. There is no perfect policy choice in Syria–only least bad and worst options. But the worst option of all, I would argue, is to allow the current conflict to rage unabated.
As for what American people want in this connection, according to this Maryland University poll, the majority of the American people supports the establishment of a no-fly zone, but opposes arming rebels:
Majorities of Americans favor the US, jointly with its allies, increasing diplomatic and economic sanctions against Syria and imposing a no-fly zone over Syria. However, majorities continue to oppose providing arms and supplies to ant-government groups, bombing Syrian air defenses or sending US troops into Syria.
When respondents were offered five policy options for the US to act “jointly with its allies” to deal with the Syrian conflict, they were willing to support two, including one that involved the use of military assets, but rejected the others.
“Increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria” was the most popular option at 60% support, with 29% opposed. Interestingly, both Republican and Democratic support was higher than this—at 69 and 65%, respectively—but among independents support was a plurality, 42 to 37%.
“Enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria” was almost the same: 59% supported it, and this was 63% each among Republicans and Democrats, while a plurality of independents supported it by 48 to 32%.
The options of “sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups” and “bombing Syrian air defenses” were both rejected by two-to-one margins. For sending arms and supplies 67% were opposed and only 22% in favor; there was no meaningful variation in support by party. For bombing Syrian air defenses, 68% opposed this idea and 21% supported it.
Finally, “sending troops into Syria” was the most unpopular option and was opposed by three in four respondents (77%), while it was supported by 13%
My personal stand is this: If America is willing to establish a no-fly zone there would be little justification for sending heavy weapons to rebels. However, light arms, including advanced RPGs, will be still necessary in order to help rebels neutralize tanks and armored vehicles and take out artillery positions.
The case for intervention has been clearly made in the Economist:
The briefer the conflict, the greater the chance that the militias who toppled Mr Assad would be commanded by moderates who are sympathetic to the West and want to put Syria back together… We do not call lightly for the world to undertake such a risky operation. But the stability of the Middle East and countless Syrian lives should not be hostage to Russian obstinacy. As the conflict drags on, month after bloody month, calls to act will mount—as in Kosovo 15 years ago. The sooner the world intervenes, the more lives can be saved, and the greater the chance that Syria can be made whole again.
Ma’arrat Al-Nouman, Idlib Province: ten families are killed in the city as a result of pounding by MiGs http://youtu.be/PvMnEET90wE MiGs drop more TNT barrels http://youtu.be/0muJifCOIN4 The size of the impact crater is staggering http://youtu.be/3NPr_899oeo
Saqba, Damascus Suburbs: pulling bodies of dead from under the rubble http://youtu.be/dGoI627c3bc , http://youtu.be/F39vrchr5lQ , http://youtu.be/fNuh-m6kKjQ , http://youtu.be/W1pHW5NDXSg Nearby Kafar Batna was also pounded http://youtu.be/rw18RDIJxHU
An unidentified object falls from a fighter jet in Idlib, it did not explode on impact, and local activists were unable to locate it http://youtu.be/uYzBcPW6oqA
Leaked video shows pro-Assad troops executing their prisoners in a Damascene suburb http://youtu.be/2D5oVjffaqg
Clashes in Sayyida Zeinab, Damascus City http://youtu.be/g0cjR-eMT4Q , http://youtu.be/uhkiqwlbQgs , http://youtu.be/pF3R7CKF628
A massacre in Deir Ezzor City http://youtu.be/_vBjOD0B7Ds , http://youtu.be/methRTLsVJ8 , http://youtu.be/x541fj45gbw
Homes catch fire in Midan District in Aleppo City http://youtu.be/YmtH5k-Z6WU After being pounded by MiGs http://youtu.be/_0qCNggwFUE Clashes http://youtu.be/8S7Ui6WH-2o Elsewhere in the city, in Sulaiman Al-Halabi neighborhood, clashes http://youtu.be/qOK6o1rubUQ , http://youtu.be/JjTRN5YUQ7Y Pro-Assad militias destroy minaret of a local Mosque http://youtu.be/lTJKSkdpWcg Closer look http://youtu.be/WAI_sk_bNvw Trying to bring a MiG http://youtu.be/Xk0d7CnDgRA
In nearby Sheikh Khodre, camera crew get caught in the shelling http://youtu.be/fucQuq9t7GI
Aleppo City: Rebels claim that the dead soldiers we see here are pro-Assad militias shot by their colleagues. The continued shooting, they say, is preventing them from helping the wounded survivor. The man hiding behind the wall is one of the rebels. Pro-Assad snipers are located in the buildings on the other side where we can see the dead bodies of Assad’s soldiers http://youtu.be/tUwdynC2BF8
Captured Syrian pilot speaks to Al Jazeera http://youtu.be/txIV8iGs2DA A Syrian air force pilot captured by rebels after his plane was shot down has told Al Jazeera that he did not know he was bombing civilians. Captain Roni Ibrahim said he and his fellow pilots were isolated from the reality of the conflict. Ibrahim said he was speaking freely, though Al Jazeera was unable to verify the claim. Anita McNaught has this exclusive report from the northern town of al-Bab.
Local fighting units in the coastal regions make another attempt at unity by forming The Sons of Al-Qadisiyyah Brigades http://youtu.be/QBDiyvIKFQ8