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  • Altered Consciousness: More Involvement in Syria Necessary

    By Rick Alterbaum
    March 23, 2012
    Section: Impressions


    Day by day we hear news reports of the Syrian government slaughtering its own people. The question is: Should the United States do something about it?

    We have already implemented strict, comprehensive sanctions on the regime there. President Obama has also stated as a matter of policy that dictator Bashar al-Assad must leave. Yet there are steps that the United States should take beyond these measures.

    It could transfer arms and material support to the Free Syrian Army, providing it with additional means to communicate. In cooperation with Turkey, it can create no-fly zones, as was done in Iraq with the Kurds, to provide refugees and anti-government rebels a safe haven and place to plan and organize their operations. Another key step is to convince the Alawites, Christians and other minorities, in addition to Sunni urban elites, not to support Assad. By this we can ensure that their safety and interests are maintained in the event that the regime falls.

    I would stop short of a full military intervention on par with the Libyan operation. Our hands are already full in the region, not to mention the various logistical dilemmas associated with such an undertaking: the strength of Assad’s army; the lack of international consensus on the issue especially regarding Russia and China; as well as the potential backlash and unintended consequences that such an invasion could precipitate. Still, President Obama should make his policy of regime more credible.

    The question that lingers is what would happen if the current regime crumbles. Scenarios have been conjured up in which, considering the country’s artificial nature and lack of national unity, Syria could split into several sections based on sectarian and ethnic differences. Others worry about Islamist infiltration into the rebel forces. Another concern is civil war between Alawis and pro-government factions versus anti-government groups.

    All of these considerations are valid. Still, the current situation is untenable.

    The fact is that Assad is already greatly destabilizing the region. Just by remaining in power, he is inflaming the Sunni-Shiite divide and causing a refugee crisis, along with the massacre of thousands of Syrian citizens. Furthermore, although Islamism is a concern, as a movement it is relatively weak compared to movements in countries such as Egypt, considering that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was crushed by Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, at Hama in 1982.

    Furthermore, the current Syrian government opposes U.S. interests in the region for several reasons. It is Iran’s chief Arab ally and its gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. It is a key sponsor and transfers arms to Hezbollah, a group that killed hundreds of U.S. marines in 1983. Syria assisted foreign fighters who were fighting U.S. troops in Iraq. It oppressed the Lebanese people through its decades-long military occupation of the country. It refuses to cooperate on the peace process in a reasonable manner with Israel, to which it remains an adamant foe.

    I am very skeptical about prospects of liberal democracy or even normalcy in the Middle East. I also understand the “there is no alternative” or “very good alternative” to the status quo argument. Still, the Syrian case is not very difficult: Assad is a brutal tyrant who is no friend of the United States and is diametrically opposed to its interests and its values. President Obama should do everything in his power short of full-scale military action to see that justice is done to this murderer.

     


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