Unlike Libya, Syria, both politically and geographically, is a central player in the Arab world, and sectarianism and instability there could threaten both Lebanon and Iraq and since the outset of the Syria crisis in March 2011 there has been little appetite for outside military intervention. This has been based on two assessments. Firstly, that the situation on the ground in Syria is in many ways very different from that in Libya, the opposition is much more divided, the government’s security forces are much stronger, and Syria’s air defences are more effective. Secondly, there has been a view that the implications of toppling Bashar al-Assad could prompt a much wider wave of instability in the region. Then, of course, there is the fundamental legal problem. Constrained by Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN Security Council, there is no possibility of getting a resolution to authorise force. The absence of legal authorisation certainly precludes action when there is little enthusiasm for it in the first place.
Despite the growing chorus calling for armed intervention in Syria, much of the debate on outside intervention remains vague. The Obama administration has so far ruled out military intervention in Syria. The Obama administration is adamant that Washington should not take the lead, but follow regional partners, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. For the United States, the main thrust of any external action would be essentially humanitarian in nature, a response to the growing plight of civilians in Syrian towns and cities who are under bombardment by government forces. Efforts could also be made to bring assistance to displaced refugees who have moved towards Syria’s frontiers with Turkey and Lebanon.
Suggested first by the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé last year, the idea would be to establish short corridors into Syrian territory through which humanitarian supplies could be delivered. The establishment of safe areas within Syrian territory is an idea that has been broached by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Such safe havens would be in border areas, acting as a place of safety where refugees could gather, be fed and sheltered, and so on. An active discussion about the merits or pitfalls of intervention is nonetheless being waged in both Arab and Western capitals. The crisis in Syria is so serious and the stakes are so high that nobody wants to rule out any option.
A central concern in the debate relates to weapons supplies and their impact, not so much on the struggle between the Assad regime and the opposition, but on the Syria that eventually emerges from this crisis. For some, decapitating the Syrian regime, through outside intervention will provide no guarantee of ending the killing. On the contrary, it could well accelerate the killing if there is no unified leadership which can assume control of Syria and no militia that can impose some order in the place of the Syrian national army. For most everyone, the toppling of Bashar Al-Assad could simply precipitate the country’s fall into bloody chaos. So let me tell you how this is going to end: There will be no military intervention in Syria whatsoever and Bashar AL-Assad, on May 7, like his father before him and himself after that, will be re-elected by a stunning majority of at least 97%.
For once, I hope that I am deadly wrong!