James Snell argues for Western intervention in Syria.
THE Syrian uprising has been dragging on since the very start of the Arab Spring in 2011. The scenes of the war have been violent and harrowing, with pro-government forces brutalising huge swathes of a vulnerable population, centred in towns with army garrisons. It has proved far too easy for the Generals of Bashir al-Assad’s regime to assault the rebel leadership and the majority of their support, due to unfortunate population demographics. The cities of Aleppo and Homs proved the most troublesome, full as they were with dissent. Homs itself has form for opposing the dictatorial designs of the regime; with the last time it demonstrated its true political opinion being fatal for some of the beleaguered population, as it was put down by the present leader’s father, Hafez al-Assad, assaulting the same region with tanks during his own crushing of resistance.
The war is complex and complicated, the enemies of the government being varied and diverse, with differing support networks and allies. There are of course, some that we should worry about, like the Mujahedeen, who are supposedly allied to the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq as well as other ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ style would-be theocratic organisations. The make-up of the rebels is a pragmatic alliance of differing interests and goals, much like the willing participants who overthrew Colonel Gaddafi in Libya last year. While we can actively wish for their success, and attempt to support them in a covert way, without the boots on the ground and regional strength that a legitimate military presence can provide, we are left powerlessly waiting hopefully for the regime to fall, but with little impact on the formation of a post-Assad Syria and who will make up the future government.
Let us not forget, too, that massacres are still occurring, and the human cost of the whole tragedy makes it even more imperative that we act. In some skilfully non-partisan reporting for the BBC, we are told of brutal atrocities which are being perpetrated in the region, and the differing reasons put forward by both sides. The government blames ‘terrorist elements’ within the rebel camp, suggesting that an Al-Qaeda linked militia could have terrorised the locale, although this narrative has been questioned, with suggestions that a predominantly Sunni group would not decide to attack and butcher the inhabitants of Sunni neighbourhood. People are already worrying about the possibility of sectarian violence erupting in a newly liberated nation.
These are normally the isolationists who are happy to support a dictator or regional strongman if they provide ‘stability‘; and with the tension surrounding political division in the newly democratic Egypt, and the widespread division of the tribal make-up of Libya – which has not yet descended into slaughter – there is a fear that the illusion of peace and harmony could be shattered. This seems quite convincing, seeing as the groups which are the greatest supporters, and beneficiaries of the Assad government are those who come from a largely similar social circumstance from him and his family.
The Syrian rebel movement is in no way sainted: they have been implicated in massacres and acts of terrorism, especially the bombing in central Damascus last year which killed several generals and high ranking military officials. These acts, while seemingly necessary to damage the command structure of the regime, are hurting the rebel cause immensely. It gives the government a pretext to retaliate with more horrific assaults on civilian areas, and also allows the regime to blame any act of terror, even if it took place in an area controlled by rebel forces, on dissenting elements within the movement. This too, is not a good thing for the image of the rebels, hence the hand-wringing over a post-Assad future, and also the disgusting exercise in unnecessary impartiality by the ultimately unsuccessful Kofi Annan.
We cannot just see the rebels as the lesser of two evils. We need to view them in a positive light, and actively work to get them into power, the best way to do this is to fight for them to do so. Boots on the ground will work, and it is sad to see the British people, with their isolationism and greedy self-interest who don’t care if the whole world outside this sceptred isle is run by the forces of evil (so long as they don’t threaten our interests, of course).
But with over 60,000 dead so far in the country, it is not the time for the world to sit on the sidelines. We know there are international partisans supporting the government, with the President specifically mentioning Iran, Russia and China as particularly helpful in his murderous struggle to retain control of the country. However, the rebels are tenaciously clawing their way across the country: after the battering of the stronghold cities of Aleppo and Homs, it is now estimated that they control one third of Greater Damascus.
This is a serious threat to the regime, but they will not sensibly flee from those who they describe as ‘disparate separatist elements’. They will in fact stay in the country, much like Gaddafi, in a doomed attempt to fight it out. Assad is a calculating man, and has decided that the chance of winning the current war is such that it is safe to gamble with what he has. While this observation is entirely supported by his wealthy tyrannical backers, willing to fly the flag and win the war for dictatorship by proxy, it will only cost more lives, destroying a country further, and jeopardising the safety of the region.
What the West needs to do now, with as much unilateral support as is possible to acquire, is to intervene in the conflict, to show this rational gambler that the force of the world’s most powerful militaries are ranged against him, which would be enough to force him out. Only if we intervene now can we eject the monster from his palace; and only if we fight now can we have some say in the reconstruction of a proud, and potentially democratic, nation.