The Dilemma over Syria

Syria’s military continued its brutal assault on neighborhoods of Homs, a center of civil disobedience against the regime, on Thursday, killing over 100 persons, including children.

This deployment of military force against civilians who were protesting is a war crime, and part of a pattern that by now amounts to crimes against humanity.

The first thing that comes to mind at these horrific images is that something should be done.

But what? Sen. John McCain has called for arming the rebels, as has the The New Republic, which appears to be veering again toward Neoconservatism.

My wise colleague Marc Lynch has raised important questions about the wisdom of this course.

I would argue an even stronger case against. Once you flood a country with small and medium arms, it destabilizes it for decades.

Ronald Reagan spread weapons all around northern Pakistan, and in my view began the destabilization of that country, which now has an endemic problem with armed tribes, militias and gangs. I saw the same thing happen in Lebanon shortly before, during the civil war that threw that country into long term fragility. More recently, we saw a civil war in Algeria (1991-2000) that left 150,000 people dead, which is really no different than what has been going on in Syria except that it was on a much larger scale and the West at that time decided to support the secular generals against the rebelling Muslim fundamentalists. The arming of Iraq post-Saddam has left it a horribly violent society for the foreseeable future (a plethora of US arms given to the new Iraqi military and police were often sold off to guerrillas). And while the war would have been longer in Libya if Qatar and France had not secretly armed the rebels, it likely would have had a similar outcome (what was really important was NATO attrition of Libyan armor). And in that case the problem the country now faces, of militia rule and fragmentation, would have been much less severe.

If people don’t think a flood of arms into the hands of Syrian fighters will spill over onto Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel/ Palestine, they are just fooling themselves. The Palestinians in the region have largely given up or been made to give up arms, in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But if small and medium arms become widespread and inexpensive, it will take us back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when Palestinian guerrillas shook Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. The Palestinians themselves always suffered from a resort to arms, and are best served by a peaceful movement of protest, and a remilitarization of their struggle would produce further tragic setbacks.

Turkey, it should be noted, is against letting arms in to either side. They do not want another ‘dirty war’ in their heavily Kurdish southeast, as happened in the 1980s-1990s.

Ultimately, the problem of legitimate action here lies in the UN Security Council. My critics have sometimes suggested that I support Democratic but not Republican Party wars, but they, like most Americans, just don’t understand the UN Charter. First of all, my default position is to oppose war under most circumstances, what I call “the option for peace.” War should not be a war of choice, but should be a very last resort. But large scale armed aggression by one country on another, or genocide, need to be opposed by arms where that is practical. As for legitimate use of force, I am against wars that do not stem from either self-defense or from a UN Security Council resolution. I wouldn’t necessarily support any old war the UNSC authorized, but its authorization is a sine qua non. Thus, I opposed the Bush invasion of Iraq once it became clear that there would be no UN authorization; unfortunately that did not become clear until late in the day. I supported a no-fly zone over Libya and an air intervention against armor used on civilians, but was critical of NATO bombing of Tripoli; i.e. I supported the UNSC resolution 1973.

I attended a meeting on Syria late last November in Europe of Europeans and Syrians attempting to think through what might be accomplished, and the lack of UN authorization cast a shadow over the conference. A seasoned European diplomat who had a long posting in Syria attended, and I pressed him on whether strong measures were possible. I fear my passion for the victims was more in evidence than my understanding of international law.

The first thing the diplomat underlined is that there is no United Nations Security Council authorization for the use of force, so no European country will use force. It was a refreshing reminder that in Europe the UN Charter and international law is still taken seriously. In the US, mention of international law is usually greeted with gales of derision.

Could, I asked, the Diplomat, Syrian ships be boarded to prevent arms shipments to the regime?

No. That would be piracy if they were on the high seas.

But, by way of analogy, I asked, can’t North Korean ships be boarded at will by the ships of the international community?

He replied that he’d been involved in the North Korea resolution. A) It is more complicated than that and B) those measures depend on a UN Security Council resolution; no such resolution has been passed with regard to Syria.

What if the Syrian ships were within 12 miles from the shore of a European country?

Then they could be boarded, but they are not so stupid as to ply those waters. Few military goods go to Syria in Syria-flagged ships, anyway.

Then I asked, undeterred, what about indicting Bashar al-Assad at the International Criminal Court for war crimes?

The Diplomat reminded me that the court can only take up a matter if it concerns a signatory to the ICC.

But, I say, Libya was not a signatory.

In that case, the Diplomat wearily reminded me, the UN Security Council referred the Qaddafis to the ICC, which is the only way a case concerning a non-signatory can be sent to the court. But Russia and China are preventing such a referral in the instance of Bashar al-Assad.

I gradually realized that if any semblance of the international rule of law were to be maintained, the international community could do nothing kinetic as long as Russia and China were running interference for the Baath regime in Syria. The logjam here is the Security Council, and its archaic veto privileges for the 5 permanent members, essentially the victors of WW II who still make policy for the whole world.

I am all for finding a way to get humanitarian aid to the dissident towns in Syria, but that step alone will not stop the regime’s violence against its people. Further sanctions on Baath regime officials would be all to the good, but the planned European Union boycott of Syrian phosphate and other exports will likely hurt the Syrian people more than the regime; boycotts that make people poor actually strengthen the regime, as we saw in Iraq in the 1990s.

I don’t think the notion of establishing protected zones for Syrian dissidents inside Syria is legal or practical. It would require that someone send troops into a sovereign country to establish the perimeter and then protect residents from the Syrian army. As the Diplomat reminded me, there is no UNSC authorization of the use of force. Any such zones would clearly immediately become war zones. Regional governments that backed these zones, whether Turkey or Jordan, would almost certainly themselves be attacked by the Syrian army (especially tiny Jordan).

If you want practical action or even military intervention in Syria beyond financial and economic sanctions, there are only two ways to get it legitimately. That would be to find a way to pressure Russia and China to stop protecting Bashar al-Assad. The other possibility would be to find a way to abolish the one-country veto on the UNSC.

I remember my anger and despair, as a teenager, at the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks in 1968. I feel the same way about Syria today. But in both cases, great power sphere of influence politics made it impossible to do anything practical about it. The hope lies only in the longer term. Prague got its spring when the Soviet Union got a reformist premier, who was influenced by decades of Soviet dissident thinking and writing. Syrian dissidents will just have to keep up a non-violent struggle for the truth that might go on for a while. If they can prevail non-violently, their revolution would immediately be more well-grounded and likely to succeed.

Posted in Syria | 37 Responses | Print |

37 Responses

  1. The key to leveraging Russia and China is determining where their actual interests with regard to Syria lie, and then exploiting any rifts within their valuation of the policy, and that is of course given that Putin and China are rationale actors. From my point of view Russia’s interests lie in their perception of Syria as within their sphere of influence, and China’s interests along with Russia lie within their solidarity with totalitarians within their sphere. So it’s going to come down to NATO making a trade with Russia, probably with regard to the missile implementation on the border of Eastern Europe or a myriad of other Russian wants. Every day it becomes a softer sell as the eyes of world look to Syrian actions and then glance up to see that it is Russia and China as their ally who are delinquent, in the very least in managing their sphere.

    The real interests for China and Russia is to let go of this archaic neo-colonial, cold war sphere concept and unburden themselves with certain nations and regions. China isn’t benefiting from force holding Tibet and Russia has little benefit from keeping Syria.

    On the flip-side Egypt’s emancipation from the US sphere has now caused them to hold 26 Americans hostage for the sake of factional cohesion between the brotherhood and Egyptian Military Aid demands. So there is blow back from letting go sometimes as well.

    Naturally dropping small arms into the situation is as always a dumb idea, to me this is allegorical to the Balkans, and that was a situation where the Russians also protected the Serbians for a long time until international pressure made it no longer in their interests. Foreign Policy is always about rationale actor and their interests and irrational actors and creativity in informing them of where their interests lie.

    • I agree with just about everything you wrote in your post. I do think , however, that there there may be one sticky point when we are talking about realpolitik interests. I think one of the main motivations for Russia and China to back Assad is that they are both afraid of setting a precedent of allowing the United Nations to authorize action against autocratic governments who use force against their own people. I think China in particular is very worried about this in light of the rapid growth of political awareness and agitation in their lower and middle classes. They probably both feel like they got pretty badly burned by letting action go ahead on Libya, and were also both probably disturbed by just how quickly the Colonel went down. This is a tough interest to manage because both countries depend on at least some military/police oppression of popular dissent for their systems to function properly (although we seem to be heading in that direction as well).

      Maybe we can get some sympathy from them over the way we let our police brutalize the Occupy protestors around the country. “It’s cool guys, we like to pepper spray and tase our protestors too”

  2. The problem of the victors of World War II continues it’s merry reign at the center of world geopolitics.

    I would recommend to all the collected letters of George C. Marshall, I’ve only read the first 2 volumes up to 1941 myself, I must admit, yet it gives great light on the challenges and compromises that he, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower faced. They all knew they needed to keep the ideals of democracy alive. Yet Roosevelt and Truman allowed a little secret conflict of right-leaning and left-leaning intelligence circles within the American and allied defense establishment, through WWII and the first years of the Cold War, and it was around 1949 with the Berlin Blockade and the fall of China that Truman and Marshall, and later Eisenhower, allowed the cessation of the left-leaning intelligence circles and the triumph of the right-leaning circles (which were even then highly involved with the petroleum industry). This was the beginning of “the dark side” within the American Empire which surfaced into the shameful use of outright torture, and advocacy of torture, in Bush Administration circles in the early 2000’s.

    I am the radical American historian of my generation, yet I am loath to outright condemn three Presidents and a Great Army Chief of Staff/Secretary of State who did get America out of a tremendous jam, mostly with very positive vision and action, go back and read the postwar documents, they would have been appalled at what American government has become. Yet they did set the seed, somewhere around 1949.

    Since I am a historian, I can say it’s still too early to judge. Surely we need to get a global change of attitudes to make a transition into a less-known future without the pollution and climate-change-disaster-potential of the petroleum economy.

    We Americans also need to organize better and think better, in order to actually be able to organize within our own country with what’s left of our democratic republic, to once again become a democratic republic providing something better to the international global reality, than the current elite-owned-and-managed, big-media-mediated political “marketplace” of American imperial corruption. IMHO, Obama is far from progressive, yet he is by far the most progressive Presidential option we can get right now. If you have energy, occupy your own local electoral marketplace, there’s still time to find better candidates than sold-out conventional Democrats in all local, state, and Congressional races.

    I’m on the record for 30 years now, global democratic government is our future, and I’m for it — although I do wish for thorough reforms to nearly all existing national governments first. Three decades ago, I could say we needed a 3 or 4-generation process of education and reform before we go to world government (which includes a global governmental monopoly of violence over all other challengers). Now we see the challenges (brought on by our globally-poor environmental stewardship, and our American-poor political stewardship) shoving the question of a global monopoly of violence closer to our faces, while the very urgency of challenges empowers the retrograde forces to make any global cooperation more difficult than ever.

    The ultimate transformations that may save us will be personal and cultural, yet that’s no excuse for failing to work and push the small political activism every day. The life and the civilization you may save, may be your own.

  3. “The logjam here is the Security Council, and its archaic veto privileges for the 5 permanent members, essentially the victors of WW II who still make policy for the whole world.”

    Inequities left over from WWI fueled WWII, which left inequities that now fuel WWIII.

  4. How do we affect change in regards to the “archaic veto privileges for the 5 permanent members”? By removing or greatly limiting the veto power, such a change would vastly level the remaining antagonistic, “east-versus-west” countries ability to act out under protection.

    Thank you Juan Cole for the honest analysis of Syria as it is hard to find commentary on this catastrophe that is not an over-simplified, heavily biased “news-report”.

  5. “Ronald Reagan spread weapons all around northern Pakistan”
    During those times I stood outside the Pakistan Ordnance Factory and looked up at the mountains where the Sun should be and wondered why anyone would bother to fight in clearly the most hostile environment on earth, mindful of my own country’s foolishness there two hundred years before.
    I am a first born of the Long Range Desert Group/SAS so got to be sent to warn folks bombs would go being off in place; check about rifles n sell missiles; blackmail counties into honesty n stuff.
    In these times I wonder how countries, tribes, religious groups, get to dominate policies and cause wars and deaths through insurrections about poppies, oil, and versions of religion tied to wealth, and, who decides the right and wrong of a cause? Not the UN for sure.
    The Groups doing the spend/pushing/insurrection only amount to a small city size and many of the countries only have populations the size of a large city.
    Modern morality/ethics seem have lost ground so who decides who is right or wrong or is it just those to benefit?
    How big/rich does the tail have to be to wag the dog?

    Surely the blockade of Iran enough to cause food hardships is a dangerous push beyond reason.

    Is the real danger of nuclear the threat to oil?

  6. This is a cup out. Russia is supplying weapons and satellite imagery and coordination points to the Syrian military in its assault on people. The legal system is being used and you are hiding behind a fig leaf of International Law. If the law were to be applied, Palestine would have seen the day of light decades ago.
    Wake up and smell the bloody roses

  7. But who are the ‘rebels’? Homs is certainly undergoing the Hama treatment but I’ve yet to hear who is spearheading the resistance to the regime?

    Honestly, the lack of support suggests to me the fear of an ikhwan led resistance, although I’ve seen no identification of the nature/politics of the resistance in the Arab press. Certainly not on the satellite channels (I live in the region).

    Who are the rebels?

    • The rebels are ordinary Syrians defending themselves and defectors who refuse to kill innocent people. The majority of conscripts do not want to participate in the killing machine.
      The people on the ground are eons beyond the exiled opposition.
      Moreover, can we stop the killing machine and send the world press and find out who the rebels are?
      As long as there is regime violence and news blackout there is a fog of war.

  8. A third possibility is to declare the Syrian assault on Hum a genocide and deploy NATO forces within Syria in defense of civilians who are absorbing indiscriminant daily bombardment and now starvation. Clearly, the tactics and the overall superiority of the Syrian forces against the civilian population are aimed at group annihilation. The US is obliged to act to stop genocide under international treaty. While this situation is fraught with political and strategic sensitivity, a case can be made that the US could act through NATO or UN force deployments to insure the safety of Syrian civilians. All types of hell may break loose as a result, granted, but that rationale is an option if there is a stomach for it.

    • I don’t see how either this or Libya could be defined as genocides unless the population of a particular city were defined as an ethnic group. Mass murder is not the same thing as genocide.

      • Well-put, I agree, SUPER390. I have long thought that “genocide” is one of those terms that many over-use incorrectly. It is thrown around loosely with a lack of precision, which is a problem with much of our language-use these days.

        • “Ethnic group,” does not establish the only targeted group of genocide under Article 2 of the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” The language is “the deliberate and systematic destruction in whole or part of an ethnic, religious, or national group,…” Language that would have included “opposition political party,” was objected to by Joseph Stalin and was therefore removed.

          I am well aware of how the term has been loosely applied, but more appropriately to historical circumstances the term has been avoided. Susan Rice, who has proposed the UN SC resolution, never admitted during her time in the Clinton WH that the Rwandan genocide was in fact a genocide because it would have committed the US to intercede and that did not play a positive part for Clinton’s re-election campaign in 1996. There are a number of examples where genocide has occurred where observers turned their collective heads only to rename the event as a genocide from their rear view mirrors.

  9. This is my first comment though I’ve been an occasional reader of your blog for 8 years and a daily reader for 3 years.

    Thanks Professor Cole for your wise and balanced view of the Syrian conflict. Comments from well informed readers further help my understanding.

  10. The correct premise, that we on the outside pretty much need to take, is to follow whatever crooked path international law offers. That it is unsatisfying should remind us this is not our fight. As human beings watching the abuse and suffering of others it is, but a commitment to the Rule of Law leaves us where it does.

    So, that leaves Syria to the Syrians. The regime strategy is to modulate their use of force, clearly planning to grind down the malcontents over time so as to never stoke a more broad-based (effective) resistance.

    Whatever the legalities may be, the situation might be finessed by other than the frontal and unsatisfying UN route. One way might to avoid a more widespread small arms proliferation is to train and equip cadres, including communications and intelligence support (the signals stuff would downright vital defensively). In this way the balance between regime and resistance power could be rectified, and modulated in the other direction.

    If you assume Assad’s commitment to stick it out and do whatever’s necessary, this is either going to go down as a police action to be mopped-up over time, or a protracted de facto civil war that will only be resolved by capitulation of the regime or the people accepting their fate. I suspect things have gone too far for acceptance to be in the cards, so the need for Syrian resistors to commit themselves to working their way through extended ugly times seems inevitable.

    Of course, we in the US could save a lot of time and energy and just ask Israel what we are to do.

  11. OK- The questions regarding the independent nature of the revolutions of Libya and now Syria are deepening.

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    Juan I have respected your good analysis for years and I supported the Libya action in part because of that. The viewpoints above jive with the worst that CIA has done historically, and the allegations seem at least within the realm of possibility. I would like to see some of these questions resolved here if possible. Regarding Syria time is of the essence. Citizens have to rapidly start making demands about the situation and the demands have to be for the right thing.

    • The CIA, Mossad, etc., are not demonstrating in Deraa, Homs, Hama, Deir al-Zor, etc., etc. That is Baath black propaganda retailed by the looney Western Left. It is not even clear that Obama wants the Baath to fall, much less is doing a covert op against it.

      • I’m starting to wonder if the worst punishment that the CIA has delivered in the past were wars that seemed to be deliberately never won. We can list so many of them.

      • It’s not like the US/Mossad have not incited or lied before. You act as if there are no reasons to be suspect, question or wonder.

  12. Juan: May I respectfully suggest that if we are going to discuss arming the opposition in Syria we not use lose and fuzzy language like “Once you flood a country with small and medium arms, it destabilizes it for decades.”

    The United States has for decades been “flooded with small and medium arms” but still seems reasonably stable, at least if we discount certain parts of the South.

    Syria is already flooded with weapons but the weapons are controlled by the regime, which shows every sign of using them without any let or hindrance.

    As a historian you are certainly familiar with how Britain and France helped the Arab revolt 1916-18, with a small numbers of advisers, money, tactical advice and fast armored cars.

    Today we would be talking about flooding Syria with Kevlar vests, communications equipment and medicine, including first aid knowledge for the opposition.

    Not the least important is to enable the opposition to upload videnon to YouTube.

    Also, the US and Israel have already showed that they can break into the Syrian communications system. Why can’t the US do so again in order to knock out Assad’s communications network?

    Part of Assads military communications are carried over a dug down cable network. It can easily be targeted by the guerillas.

    Finally, the ongoing guerrilla war shows every sign of slowly wearing down the Assad forces and ending the incredible brutal Assad regime.

    The worry should not be that support for the opposition might spread violence across the border. The worry should be that if the Assad the regime survives his methods will be widely adopted in other countries.

    If Assad falls it will be a signal to other dictators that resistance to democratic revolutions is futile.

    • Surely you jest. The United States has a strong Federal government and strong state governments and lots of men under arms and troops loyal to the establishment. A Syria in which the Baath had fallen and in which all the clans had rpgs, mortars, shaped charges, and automatic weapons will not look like Arizona, it will look like Algeria in the 1990s or in Iraq in the zeros.

      Not to mention the large pockets of territory (Palestinian refugee camps, Kurd, Druze, Allawi and other compact regions) where the state is weak and where an armed populace will like engage in reprisals and feuding.

      • Juuan,

        That was precisely my point. Nobody expects the NRA to rise up and start a genocide in the US. So why should be expect the opposition i Syria to be any different if the US and the EU were to arm them and they succeed in overthrowing the Assad government?

        In World War II the allies armed the French resistance, and France was filled to the brim with weapons at the end of 1944 when France was finally liberated. Still no civil war, no genocide broke out, despite the hostility between the communists and the Gaullists.

        Wouldn’t we expect the democracy movement in Syria be every bit as responsible as the French resistance movement after the war?

        If not it would be good to spell those assumptions out.

        • The allies occupied France!

          Just causing the Baath to collapse and arming the populace to the teeth is a recipe for disaster. Your analogy does not work, you don’t know Syria, and it isn’t either your point I am making.

        • Juan it might be helpful to think about when arming resistance forces seemed to have a positive outcome, and when it has led to more problems than it solved. I was under the impression, that relaxing the arms embargo during the Bosnian and Croation war worked well. So its not a rule of nature, that arming of the opposition always leads to worse results than not doing so. Obviously a lot of other factors come into play.

          In Iraq, didn’t Saddam leave large stores of weapons and ammunition lying about. I think he hoped the people could use these arms to defeat the invasion. Even if the US had not added yet more arms, wasn’t that cat already out of the bag?

    • “how Britain and France helped the Arab revolt 1916-18, with a small numbers of advisers, money, tactical advice and fast armored cars.”

      Yeah, and who won? The Arabs?

  13. Speaking of flooding a country with small and medium arms, observe the example just to the south of our borders, where our wretched War on Drugs has resulted in massive arms flows, some at drug cartel initiative to purchase them (and occasionally actually encouraged by the USG, with the goal of finding out where they go – but the result of simply allowing more arms to flow) – and some by way of the Mérida plan, in which we deploy military measures to attack the drug cartel violence – and send even more weapons to Mexico. Mexico’s civil society will be affected by this for decades. (This is NOT an argument that Mexico bears no responsibility for what has happened there, but rather to point out that our own massively permissive attitude to small and medium arms, and our preference for military measures over all others in attacking civil unrest elsewhere, is likely to destabilize Mexico for a very long time.)

  14. The first thing that comes to mind … is that something should be done.

    no, wrong, incorrect. Syria has nothing to do with usa – usa needs to mind its own business (for once) and quit mucking around in everybody else’s business.

    the three stooges – joe LIEberman, lindsay graham and john mccain – all need to shut the hell up and take care of business in the usa and quit worrying about everybody else’s business.

    the usa really needs to mind its own business.

    and so do its bloggers and pundits and talking heads and know it alls.

    • the usa really needs to mind its own business.

      Former11BP feels terribly for the victims of the Syrian regime, but you can’t make an anti-imperialist omelette without breaking a few eggs.

  15. The argument against external militarization is going septic. All that was necessary to “create” a militarized Syrian civil war was to do nothing, and that has now been done. Refrain from action sufficient to stop a government’s attacks against its own people long enough and you end up with external militarization anyway. Cooperative, overt, or covert, it is still a militarized situation. If Russia is pipelining support to Assad, then Russia is aiding, not preventing, external militarization. The US would have more clout it had not pursued the very same policy so enthusiastically in the past.

    I would hope to have seen open conversation with Russia about how far it would allow Assad to go toward dissolving his country in civil war, but I haven’t seen much, the pressing issue of contraception dominating most news pages.

    Not to forget page two, I read a rant a few days ago that Americans were the dumbest smart people on the planet. That degree of hyperbole is always to be suspected, but I read again today that a near majority of Americans would favor the US bombing Iran, for reasons that clearly have been almost entirely invented. “Favor” as if the decision were one of chocolate over vanilla, where a decision to war is unconnected from any other circumstance. What could the putrefaction of yet another major Mid East society possibly have to do with a good old patriotic bombing of Iran?

  16. I am against demonising the Asads. As an academic (and one who knows Syria well), I think it is important to try to detect the truth under the weight of propaganda now being disseminated.

    The Asads are not a very nice regime; my Syrian students have spoken in the past of their fear of the Mukhabarat (the security services). Unelected, it is a mafia family, of which Bashshar is the acceptable face. He speaks nicely, always talking of compromise, but unable to enforce it (reminds one of Obama, doesn’t it).

    Nevertheless, they are still supported by a large proportion of the Syrian population. It is difficult to say how large, I wouldn’t for a moment believe the so-called polls. But not far from half. A declining proportion, as many who support them are doing so for security and stability.

    They have done good things: they received Iraqi refugees without limit, whereas Jordan closed its borders.

    In the present affair, they shot from the start. I’ve had reports of resentment at the deaths of relatives in Dar’a. But as far as I can detect, the use of weapons was limited to light arms until recently. Tanks present but not firing. It must be the “nice man”, Bashshar, who insisted on not destroying his country. But now he’s lost out, and the relatives are insisting.

    Suddenly two days ago, the videos of Homs started showing destruction by bombardment. Never before. Even now it’s only destruction by relatively light weapons, perhaps mortars. Certainly not heavy artillery, or 2000 lb bombs.

    Me, I think that if the Syrian regime wants to suppress the revolt definitively, they should go all out, and use all weapons.

    They have not wanted to do so, and I think, for that, they are going to lose.

  17. One positive aspect of the Hafez Assad dictatorship was that his brutality and internal repression prevented militant Islamics groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood from taking control of the government. Of course, the massacre on Hama was a war crime as well as crimes against humanity.

    My apprehension will be if Syria’s current leader vacates office,there will be nothing to restrain jihadist elements from either ruling or exercising powerful influence on a new Syrian government much like Hezbollah has done in Lebanon since the early 1980s. This could destabilize the fragile diplomatic balance that has kept this region of the Middle East largely at peace since 1973.

  18. Juan:
    Are you really serious about military actions needing the UN Security Council’s approval? What about Sarajevo in the 1990’s? The Russians hated the idea of airstrikes, which worked quite well. So what if a client regime of a Security Council member is committing genocide? Do other states have options?

  19. Don’t agree at all.

    We are better than not to do everything we can to keep people from being slaughtered.

    Imagine if you will, that the United States could be sufficiently together to issue a warning to Assad to stop the killing or we would be tossing some cruise missiles at his last known location. Sure, there would be a lot bitching and the philosophers would have a field day. But that’s a tomorrow problem. The opportunity is now and I can not see us being proud if we don’t do something today

  20. Let’s take a page from immanuel kant and substitute any country where the government has its armed forces oppress people with reports of massacres for “Syria” at a particular time. This list would be quite long, wouldn’t it?

    Let’s also substitute “Russia” and “China” with whatever power with influence offers diplomatic support to a particular country. We are left with a long list including rather more inconvenient pairs such as “Bahrain-USA”, even “Iraq-under-Saddam-USA” …

    Somehow I think there will be less enthusiasm for a proposed Indonesian initiative to break the power of the Veto in the UNSC allowing it to legally intervene in Bahrain, Uzbekistan, or Northern Ireland not too long ago for that matter.

    Perhaps the matter of a new international system to handle interventions needs more reflection, unless we are bold enough to specify that only “responsible” nations can apply for intervening, which just so happens to include only our own country and allies.

  21. “What if the Syrian ships were within 12 miles from the shore of a European country?

    Then they could be boarded, but they are not so stupid as to ply those waters.”

    Every shipment by ship to Syria has to go through one of the following points:
    (1) The Suez (Egypt can inspect)
    (2) Gibraltar (Morocco and/or Spain can inspect)
    (3) The Bosporus (Turkey can inspect)

    This means water-based arms shipments can be blockaded completely, unless Assad can load his ships in a country directly bordering the Mediterranean.

    Air-based shipments can be halted if care is taken.

    Land-based shipments must go through Turkey (which will block them), Iraqi Kurdistan (which could and probably would want to block them), Jordan (which could block them), Lebanon (check before entering the Mediterranean) or Israel (would it be willing to check?), or I suppose perhaps Saudi Arabia (would it be willing to check?)

    In any case an arms embargo seems relatively easy to construct and even to enforce, with some very obvious countries as the weak points, countries subject to pressure in the international media.

    Of course Assad may have plenty of weapons already on hand in Syria but that’s another matter. Why no coordinated “coalition of the willing” arms embargo? It’s a legal option under international law, and what’s Assad gonna do in response, invade Turkey? I don’t think so.

  22. What do you think about the suggestion that the U.S: and Europe are arming the rebels to take down Assad as a way to get at Iran. Assad is an important friend of Iran?

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