Syria: More Debate on How to Stop the Violence, Little on How to End the Civil War and Create Peace

I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and to not only urge, but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. It is frankly not enough just to come to the Friends of the Syrian People, because I will tell you very frankly, I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime. The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price, because they are holding up progress – blockading it – that is no longer tolerable.”

– Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, at the Friends of the Syrian People Ministerial Meeting

 There has been a lot of anxious hand wringing about the need to stop the violence in Syria. Thursday July 4th, there was an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Will Syria be Kofi Annan’s Tragedy Redux?” by Paul Wolfowitz and Mark Palmer. You will remember Amb. Wolfowitz as a super hawk on Iraq who was in the high levels of the Bush II administration and now he is with the right ring American Enterprise Institute.  

Their take, in a nutshell, is to intervene by providing arms to the opposition, not necessarily sending US troops, but still “playing an overt forceful role in organizing and arming the Syrian opposition…” They also advocate creating “sanctuaries” via Turkey. They cite the Libya intervention as a model. They point to the problem of Syria falling into the hands of extremists. Yet they do not provide any roadmap on how to prevent that.

The latest news is that Syrian artillery forces are pounding the areas around the northern city of Douma.  It has reportedly been overrun by pro-Assad militiamen. The Syrian opposition reports that at least 11 people, including a six-year-old girl, were killed in the assault. The United Nations observer mission in Syria is inoperative with its “observers” not able to continue their work surrounded by “unprecedented” levels of violence in the country and its head is calling for the mission to be restructured. The U.N. Security Council is due to make a decision on the future of the mission. But with a Russian veto one can’t expect much to come of this and even with an agreement such as a small force would still be at the mercy of Assad’s forces.

I am sympathetic with the idea of multilateral intervention, as readers of this blog know, and some elements in the op-ed follow a few of my earlier suggestions, but there is little in the article on how this might work and even less on how to get the other still reluctant partners to agree to work together to stop the killing and work towards an end that will not only bring peace but also an effective government of national unity without revenge or continued sectarian killings.

As the days go by, I continue to believe that some form of action will be taken; activities on the ground point to a spread of opposition fighting as the escalation of the use of massive force and “dark” killings of civilians by the Assad regime is becoming their primary tool to remain in power. Annan’s plan is indeed faulty due to Russian intransigence, but a tipping point is coming and I hope a new strategy is forming where thought is given not only to the start of intervention but to the creation of a structure and context for long-term stability in Syria. This outcome, in my opinion, will require on-the-ground peacekeeping troops for a long period.


**Note** Most recent information confirms that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a commander in the elite Republican Guard, close friend of the president and a member of the Damascus aristocracy, has defected and fled the country. The situation in Syria continues to be a quickly changing landscape. For more information on the developing situation, click here!

For information on the outcome of the Friends of Syria Meeting in Paris, click here!

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