Syria: A Bitter Future?

The latest news is a UN report that indicates that about 60,000 people have been killed in the now nearly two years of fighting in Syria.  U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who issued the report said both rebels and government forces are at fault and included, rightly, also the international community, which he said has “fiddled around the edges while Syria burns.”

An earlier estimate by a Syrian opposition group put the death toll at 45,000. Today’s reports continue the daily reported statistics of the horror of the widespread killings, many via the Syrian air force bombing urban areas.
 
On Thursday, there was ferocious fighting in and around several airports in northern Syria. It was characterized as one of the deadliest days in recent memory, in which more than 100 were reported killed in Damascus alone. Meanwhile the Syrian opposition tried to take over the Taftanaz base in the northwestern Idlib province. On Thursday, they also were attacking the airport in Deir Ezzor and the Aleppo airport was also has been closed since Tuesday due to conflict in the area.

In a letter to the Washington Post published on Monday, December 31st I called for the United States and the international community to act to guarantee that what takes the place of the Assad regime are “not further killings and revenge acts between the ethnic groups.” I called for not only a “responsible, broad-based, transitional government” but an assurance that “a robust and disinterested peacemaking force will be in place.” I understand that  the United Nations is trying to establish such a force but is having little support from key nations for this initiative.

I also believe that a the function-mandate of a multilateral force should be not only peacemaking but also peacekeeping and monitoring of the peace and the development of civil society and protection of human rights.  

An armed peacekeeping and monitoring international force can perform also the key task of safeguarding, and in time, the destruction of the stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. The force should also dispose of the remaining Scuds and to the extent possible make sure that ground to air hand held weapons in Syria are rounded up.

Above all ensuring stability in a future Syria should be now our key objective. That will require a major effort to rebuild the devastated society and the early employment of young people and assuring food, power, and medical assistance, thus providing hope in place of despair and anger. The United States and international bodies such as the European Union and Arab League can and should contribute major resources.

In the short letter I unfortunately could not outline some of the “conditions” and “actions” the international community would need to make such an effort effective and accepted. we need a strong set of carrots and sticks with the opposition coalition to get their cooperation and their good responsible behavior and make it in their interest to do so.

We need to put some very smart Diplomats/Military brass/special forces – people on the ground and “hold their hands.” We also need to get the Arab players and Turkey to see it in their interest to make sure Syria is not a basket case and a killing field. Some of them can help pick up the expense of putting people to work and getting the economy back in order. It needs to be done within hours/days of the fall of Assad. We need to arrange getting the Syrian army back into the barracks and paid for their good behavior. 

I added to my proposal the concept of both Peace Keeping and Peace Making…to the mix that the transition government give its early support and blessing. Reports from the ground by reporters indicated that all ethnic groups feared killings and repression absent a neutral outside force of monitors with a mandate of PK and PM, Further, such an effort, and a robust one, can set the environment for a real development effort that has not be possible in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

In short, I think most of the people of all groups would want security for their families and would trust a strong “fair” outside group — but I agree that there will be those who would oppose any outside effort if it stopped their own hate/power agenda. This is sadly a given. But an outside PK/PM effort can likely mitigate the killing and provide at least in the cities some measure of security for everyday life. 

So the question remains whether Syria will see a continued “bitter” outcome or at last some measure of security and hope for a better future in a reconciled and broad multi-ethnic society.

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