There is nothing worse for any country than a civil war. The American Civil War killed more Americans than any war in our history. It was a brutal struggle with outrageous acts on both sides. Even today we have not fully recovered from its historical impact. We again had to struggle through our civil rights efforts in the 1960’s and beyond to achieve only partial reconciliation and social justice, yet racism is still a force in our society…..just witness this election campaign.
In Syria we are witnessing a bloody civil and sectarian war that has now likely resulted in the killing of some 13,000 people, many in the most barbaric manner mainly by the Assad regime and its supporters.
There are two extreme schools of thought being broadcast. I will outline them in a short and simplistic way here: One is that the Assad regime has won with the help of Iran and Russia and that “peace” at any cost should be made which would likely permit any further outrage they might desire to be carried out under a fig leaf of “peace.”
The second is that the killing and the divide has been so bitter after so many casualties that civil war is the only option which will likely end in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. This outcome would result in the winner carrying out massive revenge and ethnic cleansing of the other side – in one possibility, the Sunni majority, if armed and supported by the Arab counties (and perhaps elements of NATO), could emerge triumphantly in the ashes of their county and impose themselves their own tyranny.
Let me say that neither of these two extremes needs to be the outcome, but they are the likely result if no outside responsible force is imposed to act as a peacekeeper, moderator, mediator, policeman and civil society builder. Like the economic and political crisis in Europe, there does not seem to be a grownup in town or a collective community to put down the bullies and create some peace.
Let’s be clear, the outcome of either of these two bad options is instability, more unrest and conflict in the entire Middle East region. The bitterness by both Sunni and Shia factions would likely extend beyond Syria and further poison the sectarian divide in Islam. No one would win with these outcomes. We could see more “Syrias” in other countries where populations contain minorities that have co-existed to this day. Take a look at where ethnic conflict has run amuck, namely Iraq, where today the killing continues.
The alternative, as outlined earlier in this blog, is action by the “Friends of Syria” and/or a coalition of the willing. There is a talk of a “Russian initiative” and US diplomats working to find a solution. But the problem is the Russian solution is keeping the Assad regime in place perhaps without Assad. The Iranians also may accept this outcome, but let’s be frank, any “Assad Light/Alawites” solution would not now be acceptable to the majority of the Syrian Sunni community. But an equally sectarian solution of a highly authoritarian Sunni regime that aims at revenge and the imposition of an Iranian-type Islamic theocratic state would also not work or be desirable for a long-term reconciliation.
The Russians remain a problem since besides their support for Assad in the Security Council, there are reports they and the Iranians are giving arms to the Assad military to kill civilians. Only the clear likelihood of Assad falling will change their bloody calculation. This is a foolish gambit given it long-term likely outcome. Secretary Clinton has pointed this out to the Russians without affect so far.
U.S. officials have indicated that a unified and broad Syrian opposition does not yet exist, and fear that “radicals” seem more and more in charge, and they dread a bad outcome with any option.
Clearly they do not want to put US combat troops on the ground in such an environment and I agree. The question is whether a balanced peacekeeping force of largely Islamic and neutral states can be formed to take actions against the Assad regime along with new coercive sanctions, blockades, and a no fly zone, while also establishing protected zones to prevent further civilian bloodshed. This would have to go hand in hand with creating a provisional government of “national unity” which would include all groups and persons of the highest good will and integrity. All of this is admittedly a big lift.
The other need is to establish an enforcing and armed international peacekeeping force, similar to the one used in the former Yugoslavia – which has been largely successful at least in keeping mass bloodletting down. But that took resources, political will and was backed by American diplomacy and funding as well as participation by NATO and the EU – with the purpose of safeguarding an Islamic population against the Serbs.
Right now backdoor diplomacy is at work but the question is whether it is creating a lasting and just solution for the entire population or just papering over the bloody acts so that an unjust and still brutal regime can remain? The word “durable solution” is often used by diplomats as shorthand for creating conditions that permit a real civil society and democratic process that protects human rights. The question of the day is can we get an international consensus towards that aim. Finding an answer is becoming more urgent by the hour!