The most important new element in the sad Syria conflict story has been the effort to finally create a hopefully unified Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. The group will be headed by Moaz al-Khatib, who is a Sunni Muslim preacher and considered a moderate. But behind him are members that are said to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The group has already gotten recognition by the Gulf Co-operation Council and Mr. Khatib is now seeking recognition by the Arab League in Cairo. This larger and broader group has been encouraged by the United States, Britain, and a group of Arab states lead by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
There is some skepticism that this group can be fully unified and not break up in quarreling. But the main impetus has been the hope of finally obtaining enough resources and even arms from both the Arab states and the West to gain the advantage over the Assad regime. Despite the criticism of Gov. Romney in the election campaign, America has been working hard behind the scenes to help put such a coalition together and ensure that it has diversity, moderation, and reconciliation as its goals. The first statements by Mr. Khatib seem to indicate this direction when he called for the unity and freedom for all factions and “rights for all parts of the harmonious Syrian people.”
At a November 13th meeting at the Chatham House in London entitled, “The Crisis in Syria: Is there a Way Out?” there was a lively discussion of recent events but not much on paths forward. Few participants thought that the path would be simple. Most recognized the danger of the spread of conflict throughout the region. Much attention was paid to the involvement of Jihadis elements from outside, reportedly including some al-Quadr affiliated fighters.
Martin Chulov, the Guardian Middle East correspondent, said that American intelligence had judged the situation too much of a mess for the U.S. to become fully involved in the Syrian conflict. However, there were other indications that both the UK and the U.S. were both contemplating increasing their engagement while looking at adding support for the new opposition group-should it remain broad, unified and keep its moderation. But most speakers at the meeting expressed their doubts in the short term that the final outcome be an overthrow of Assad. They noted that continued support from Russia, Iran and others was one factor making peace difficult.
There was considerable question about whether the new coalition could hold together and prevail over Assad. A question arose of whether it would be able to form a moderate and conciliatory government against the push of more extreme elements of the Jihadis faction, which increasingly has a strong combat presence, especially in Aleppo.
There is also a question of who exactly is the new executive made up of and will they be able to maintain trust of the Syrian communities. Further, the conflict can roll out of control and spread even more beyond Syria. Yet on the surface, this new unity has given hope to Syrian citizens with possible recognition by the Arab and Western States. If nations give the National Coalition recognition as the “legitimate” government, then they could legally welcome the involvement and even intervention of forces in Syria including setting up of “no fly zones,” zones of protection, shipment of arms, and financial/economic support and training. This could overcome the blocking in the UN Security Council by Russia and China.
The recent spread of conflict along the Turkish border and Golan Heights only highlighted that a wider regional conflict could erupt any day. Already the Turks are calling for a possible NATO response. The Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that the alliance would “do what it takes” to protect Turkey. Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon have also already been impacted in the Syrian conflict and the refugee influx has increased the concern for the safety of both the Syrians on the border and citizens of the border states.
The Chatham House meeting never really got into a strategy of the “way out” for Syria. Clearly, the participants did not see any easy option to stop the killing or forcing Assad out while at the same time put in place a humane alternative governance.
But it is clear that unless Assad is removed sooner rather than later and the new National Coalition (its now short form name) keeps its unity and gets effective resources, the bloody conflict could get worse before it gets better. Outside intervention remains a conundrum for the key “Friends of Syria” nations, particularly the U.S., Arab League, the EU/NATO, and especially the UK which has played a leading role among the Europeans pushing for a stronger response.
What are your thoughts on the situation in Syria? How much involvement do you think the U.S should have? Share your thoughts!