Syrian Intervention: Too complex for simple answers

Jonathan Brown,

One major problem with the discourse on the ever worsening situation in Syria, is a tendency to over simplify what is an incredibly complex and difficult issue. Viewing it as a tale of emboldened and courageous citizens standing up against a brutal despot will confuse the true reality of the Syrian opposition. It is divided and the civil war can not be painted as good versus evil. Rather, the Syrian opposition contains extremist elements which render the tale of good versus evil redundant. The purpose of emphasising this is not to detract from the fact that Assad is a callous man, but is to focus on the point that simply arming the rebels is problematic in itself.


This is for two reasons: One is that arming the rebels is not guaranteed to provide a decisive breakthrough in the civil war. Giving guns is not going to topple Assad overnight. It is likely that arming the rebels would only entrench an already bloody civil war and could yield more bloodshed. The other argument against arming the rebels is connected to the aforementioned point regarding the morally ambiguous nature of the rebels. If weapons were to get into the wrong hands – which seems likely if intervention came in the form of increased weaponry – it could intensify sectarian crimes and cause greater internal strife within the already delicate rebel camps by leading to factional disputes taking an increasingly dangerous tone.

The moral argument is of course compelling. To view events without any emotion appears to promote jut abandoning it to tyranny. Surely the West has a moral obligation to step in and help those less fortunate? Yet it appears that this doctrine is used only when there is a vested interest at stake, and the sincerity of this belief at the heart of decision making seems questionable to say the least. Despite the persuasiveness of the moral argument in winning hearts and minds, any decision should be based on consequences, and unintended consequences are something that definitely has to be taken into consideration.

At the same time, those propounding that the UN will find a resolution seem naïve. After over 2 years of protracted conflict, Assad has made his stance very clear. He is not someone who will cooperate whilst there is an opposition force vying for power. He is desperate to hold onto power at all costs. But this in the framework and context in which discussions have been taking place and thus it seems unsurprising there has been little progress. If there were plans for there to be greater support of the rebels to the point where it would be decisive, with full scale intervention this may lead Assad to cooperate. Without Assad, it is difficult to fathom the conflict maintaining its current level of intensity. If for example Assad and his family were offered right of passage to leave the country, although it not necessarily desirable, it is potentially a pragmatic solution offering a breakthrough in Syria. Anything that allows an internal situation where Syrians can decide their own destiny is desirable but this seems impossible with Assad still present. This is not purporting to solve a very difficult situation but is one way of providing a way out without simply entrenching conflict.

Due to the nature of the country and its religious and political differences, there has to be a system that accommodates diversity. Partitioning the country is probably not feasible due to the problematic process of man made borders, and this potentially leading to regional civil war engulfing the nation. But if a system was recognised where sides had an equal stake then cooperation would come. This is where hope can be invested, as else where there is none.


  1. The author touches on some excellent points here, not least that the conflict in Syria is as much about rural vs urban, secular vs religious, and inter-religious in nature.

    Talk of ‘arming’ the rebels is also a little simplistic. To take on the T-72’s and heavier gunships of the regime require more than a Kalashnikov. You’re talking something along the lines of the TOW system that the US use, or maybe the Milan anti-tank missiles used by many Europeans. These are highly advanced weapons that take months training to use, they aren’t something you can shove into the hand of a farmer and wish him luck.

    There are two options available for peace, in my view: 1) a palace coup. Only a figure from inside the regime is going to have the clout to hold Syria together. Read more on my views here ) 2) support the forces of President Assad to crush the rebellion in a summer offensive and end the conflict as quickly as possible.


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