Syria: The Beginning of the End or More of the Same?

The aftermath of the bombing of the Syrian security center with the death and injury of some key Assad regime military and security leaders, along with the veto of a tougher UN sanction by Russia and China in the Security Council, may have created a “game changing” situation.

The intensification of the conflict in Damascus and the seizing of border posts by the opposition also create new dynamics within Syria.  This changing of the playing field inside Syria should bear upon the next steps of the international community to put an end to the bloodbath and create the final chapter to this sad civil war. A new approach is now clearly needed.

The counter view is that the Assad regime will draw upon more powerful weapons systems and oppressive tools and concentrate its resources in the Capital and push out the opposition forces but at a high cost of civilian lives. 

There has also been more discussion in the “main line media” of what the ending might look like and how to contain possible future killings and deal with the existence of very dangerous chemical weapons which could fall into the wrong hands. The New York Times and the Washington Post on July 19th each had editorials, the former pointing the finger at Russia, and saying NATO should not directly be involved in the bloody conflict, while the Post calls for a belligerent stance and military action by America. 

Each paper quoted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stating that Syria was “rapidly spinning out of control.” The Washington Post editorial supports creation of “safe zones” which it seems the opposition has already done in large areas of the hinterland, and it also called for direct American arming of the opposition “that could tip the military balance.” The New York Times said that there is no sign that Assad is planning to leave power and but did not call for direct American military intervention or aid to the opposition with arms. 

Unbelievably, meanwhile, Fox News on the web headlined: “Brutal Syria conflict is Obama’s shame | Fox News.” There appears to be no shame by this sullied media empire that hacked into the phone of a dead child in Britain, and is now using a tragic and bloody conflict’s news to make an partisan attack on the American President. 

All this debate on policy may not matter if the conflict comes to a conclusion on its own with one side winning decisively but with high costs and impacts on the region which may add to instability in the region and further polarize this sectarian conflict. This is what America and its allies need to think hard about.  

One positive element of developments is that there seems to be more useful attention to what can be done once the conflict ends perhaps in a victory of sorts for one side or some compromise. Without a UN mandate but perhaps support from the Arab League, NATO and some humanitarian groups, an international armed peacekeeping and mediation force is the best solution to the likely deadly revenge cycle we have seen in other areas of sectarian conflict.  Perhaps even the Russians and the Chinese, once they have seen the writing on the wall, might even support UN efforts to stabilize the situation. 

We don’t quite know if this is the beginning of the end as it could still escalate in ways we have not yet discerned. The key to good policy planning is to both plan for likely outcomes and prepare and act now to deter unpredictable bad consequences. But such action can only come from those with the will and the resources to make a difference and stop the worst. 

 We welcome your comments!

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