Syria: The Problem of Official Butchery of Citizens and the Dilemma of an Effective International Response

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.

2 thoughts on “Syria: The Problem of Official Butchery of Citizens and the Dilemma of an Effective International Response

  1. Harry Blaney February 18, 2012 / 12:36 AM


    While I agree with the idea that we need great caution in “sticking our foot in” in some places, my view remains that there are places and crises where the world and we would be safer and the future better where we can and should play a leading but not only role. My preference has been to do so on a multilateral basis where ever possible. I also agree we have made some serious mistakes like in Iraq and am glad we are finally moving out from much of on the ground military actions.

    But the principle has been not to let genocide and massive brutality to go unchecked. That was the idea of the UN resolution of the “responsibility to protect.” In the 21st century the world needs to put a stop to such action in the larger name of common morality and safeguarding humanity from barbaric actions. Again we need to support the growing consensus that all nations should act to stop what we are seeing now in Syria. There are many ways this can be done including sanctions but with the possibility of a government massacre now seeming to be aiming at 10,000 people…the number that Bashar Assad’s father killed earlier in a similar action to put down unrest by his citizens. The world knew little and did nothing. So now his son thinks he can get away with the same horrific action.

    Next week the “Friends of Syria” will be meeting and they will also talk with the Syrian opposition parties. The need now is a strategy which must include some kind of military threat and assurance to Assad with continued violence against his people that he will only end up like Gaddefi. But we need as a multinational effort led by the Arab League and Turkey to also assure the people that what come next will not be more blood letting.

    Finally, the reason we need to be concerned with the Middle East is NOT just oil, nor protecting an often stupid and self-inflicting Israel government, but rather the same reason we fought Hitler, stop the invasion of South Korea, and acted against “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia….namely the sense of a common humanity and the building of a more safe, just, and peaceful world for everyone. Again smart power and diplomacy should be our tools of choice if possible rather than military action.

  2. Bob Lamoree February 15, 2012 / 12:36 PM

    Our foreign policy to often reminds me of ‘the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.’ There are times when we use a sledge hammer when it would be better to use a fly swatter and visa versa. Then there are ‘no win’ situations we delight in sticking our foot in. I look, at the Middle East and all I see is a perpetual mess. Do we have a vision for the Middle East? If it’s all about Israel what has it gotten us?
    Sanctions. Embargos. Coddling dictators. Destroying dictators. What are we doing?
    I think I know why we’re in the Middle East . . . because after WWII the Brits came to us and said, we’re broke, someone has to take over. And we said, ‘okay.’ And the we started doing dumb things like getting rid of Mossadegh . . . because of oil. But maybe that’s our Middle East vision . . . OIL.
    Syria is an on-going disaster. But isn’t it time someone else, like Turkey, does something about it?

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