One again we are faced with the specter, as we were in Libya just a year ago, of brutality and butchery of an authoritarian regime against its own people – now with nearly 6,000 deaths and growing at an alarming rate, most of whom are innocent civilians. With a veto in the UN Security Council by Russia and China, the dilemma for the responsible international community is, “what is next?”
The end game now is to stop the killing; the second goal must be the formation of a new national government made up of all groups in the population of Syria in place of Bashar al-Assad’s now discredited and criminal regime.
We have come to the point when a “coalition of the willing” and regional organizations need to step in where neither China nor Russia have a veto. The first step is to recognize a responsible and broad-based opposition organization which has representatives of all groups and for the key nations to recognize this as the legitimate government of Syria, and to have the new regime request international peacekeepers with a strong mandate and humanitarian assistance.
The best solution is not only a new broad-based government but, frankly, there is need for a peacekeeping and peacemaking multilateral force with a strong mandate. The strong mandate must be not only to stop the killing but also to create the conditions for fair and peaceful interim government of national unity composed of respected leaders from all groups and to establish free and fair elections as soon as conditions permit. The other condition must be that any future government and new constitution and law must protect human rights, create the reality of rule of law, and establish the protection and rights of minorities. There is no room now for individual extra-legal vendettas such as the ones we are starting to see in Iraq.
Realistically, the two main actors in setting up such an action is the Arab League and Turkey, which shares a border with Syria and has the largest trained army in the region (indeed even in Europe). But there is need also for a United Nations presence, especially for humanitarian work and to supervise the elections. There is also room for some economic assistance to create jobs and hope.
The U.S. has suggested even stronger sanctions by NATO/EU countries and by Arab League nations. The question is whether we have enough time to have an impact as the daily killing totals horrifically grow. NATO with the U.S. can have a role in providing logistics and intelligence to such an international force. We can also provide emergency medical and humanitarian assistance, probably in camps on the Turkey/Syria border. There is no need for any American “boots on the ground.”
Time is of the essence now, as sanctions, absent the prospects of early armed peacekeepers, are unlikely to deter an Assad regime which seems impervious to reason or moral persuasion. Once again, the internationally agreed “responsibility to protect” is at a crucial testing point.