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Heather Roff

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The Politics of Intervention

Posted: 10/29/2012 5:30 pm

Yet again, the world is witness to a failed diplomatic attempt to end violence in Syria. Friday was the start of a hopeful four-day ceasefire between the Syrian government and rebels, but the four-day negotiated agreement lasted more like four hours.

It is now time, once again, that we take stock of this situation. On one side of the argument are the interventionists, and these do not merely contain liberal "hawks." Recently, the editors at the more conservative-leaning Economist called for a limited intervention in Syria. Their contention is that the conflict is going to turn into an entrenched high casualty fight for years to come.

Moreover, Paul Ryan, the GOP's vice presidential candidate is also calling for intervention. On the other side sit those calling for calm and further diplomatic maneuvers. Former Secretary General and Special Representative Kofi Annan most aptly represents this side.

Annan's position is that a peaceful solution is the most ideal situation, and that escalating violence will only make the conflict worse. What he calls the "mosaic of Syrian society" requires a diplomatic solution where all people's interests are taken into account and protected.

Yet I think we must face the facts of the current situation and not be blinded by what foreign policy scholars call "wishful thinking biases." Milosovic played a similar (yet much longer) game in the 1990s when he continued to agree to diplomatic solutions and maneuvers, only to backtrack or distance himself once "gains" were made. Ultimately, that ended in humiliation for the UN (and Annan), and with the 1999 intervention in Kosovo. Now, to be sure, the two cases are not identical, but the argument about diplomacy seems to be analogous. The question, then, is whether and to what extent a military option is available.

Turkey has staked out its position quite clearly, and other powers in the region have as well. But unless the big power players in the system decide to act, nothing will happen. The U.S. is quietly positioning small forces into the region, and is rumored to be providing small arms to the rebels. It is unclear, however, whether other regional powers, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia are providing heavier artillery.

Wherever the rebels are gaining their weapons, it is clear that such support will only prolong the conflict -- as the Economist article notes -- because Assad's use of cluster bombs cannot be stopped with small arms. Heavier firepower and the imposition of a no-fly zone is the only way to stop these types of attacks.

We might have waited with baited breath to see if the four-day ceasefire over the Eid al-Adha holiday actually held, thus providing some hope for a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, it is evident that neither side wants a negotiated peace. Assad is willing to do whatever is necessary to hold onto power, and the rebels are also violating human rights at an alarming rate.

The solution, then, to this bloody problem is not easily apparent. To be sure, the possibility that Syria's civil war will spread to the region is real, and the effects of hundreds of thousands of immigrants are being felt in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. We are standing on the precipice of requesting intervention -- not for humanitarian purposes -- but for reasons of international peace and security under the umbrella of the UN's Chapter VII powers. It is time to start rethinking our options.

Arab consensus on a no-fly zone, or for a more entrenched intervention, would be the first requirement. Moreover, it might be time to bolster Turkey's position as the head of a possible intervening coalition backed by NATO. While Western boots might not be popular, Turkey's position as a NATO ally might be utilized in this matter. Russia and China's intransigence on the Security Council has only further highlighted the shortcomings of the UN and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (as executable only through the Security Council), and it is looking increasingly more like a time when an "illegal" but "legitimate" intervention might need to take place. None of this can happen, however, without serious support from the Arab community.

If, however, the major powers and the regional Arab states agree to a military response, then they must simultaneously agree to a post-conflict reconstruction plan. Assad's forces have already leveled much of the country, and so not only will those cities require physical reconstruction, but political and constitutional reconstruction is also a must. That Syria's population is such a "mosaic" of cultural and religious groups presents a challenge to a fair, equitable and effective way forward. However, such a post-conflict plan is necessary. Neighboring countries and allies would have to pledge monetary support and aid, and there should be pushes to inject foreign direct investment in the post-conflict country. Thus the question: What should we do about Syria? Can only be answered in the broadest possible terms: stop the killing, rebuild the state, ensure justice.

I wrote, almost one year ago to the day, that Syria will never be Libya due to tactical considerations. My predictions, sadly, are true, but I hope that we can, as a world community, come together to halt these brutal killings and human rights violations, tactics aside.

 
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