If intervention is the chosen solution, what is the most suitable course of action in Syria?
by Riley Frost
The Arab Spring; one of the most inspiring and hard-hitting epochs in modern world history. At its dawning it was difficult to turn on a television or pick up a newspaper and not be confronted with the awesome sight of 200,000 saturating Tahrir Square in Cairo or the brutal images of protester after protester bloodied having fought tenaciously with those they deemed to be their oppressors or the image of yet another despot smouldering. It is 32 months since catalyst Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immunisation in Tunisia; still the fire burns, his legacy burns on. During this time the West has had little reason for intervention; despite America and its school-yard friends holding the self-appointed position of World Police, it has never been in Western interest to attempt to influence any conflict; many would concur that in most cases the outbreaks have been justified, totalitarianism snapping under the weight of its own people. Yet now the West as an entity finds itself in a precarious position, would it be rational to come to the aid of a country where liberation has descended into civil war? The situation is particular; the tyrant in this case has held his ground and many see him on the winning side of a merciless scrimmage. With this decision seeming to have already been made, how should we go about taking on the Assad regime?
In August 2012, exactly 12 months ago, Barack Obama issued the following statement:
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized, that would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
Of course many would agree that this in itself is somewhat clear, any sign of the mobilisation of chemical weapons and America will see that as a viable reason for direct action. The debate as to why Obama would have issued such a loose statement regarding the conflict is a whole other argument in itself but focusing on the simple fact that the red line set by the States has been crossed, action will undoubtedly take place. Why? Mainly vis-a-vis Iran, America needs to show strength against a country where anti-American chants are often bellowed by politicians in its own national parliament and as much as we hate it, Iran is a lot stronger than many will be aware of. A highly patriotic population in combination with an advanced, well managed nuclear program provides the West with -in a nutshell- a headache and not much else.
An entity going to war without knowing quite what it wants to achieve could prove to be more dangerous than many have acknowledged in the past few weeks. Despite Obama stating that no decisions have been formally made, the evidence points strongly to intervention. If so, most crucially, any intervention must be with a beginning, middle and an end as without this, the West could be left wandering around aimlessly like a lost sheep in a part of the world where famished wolves lurk menacingly. It is apparent that the best way to approach such a situation is not with the gargantuan might that was seen in Afghanistan and Iraq but with tact and patience, something often the coalition lacks. Of course time is of the essence and lives are at risk but a lack of the aforementioned qualities could put further civilians in the line of fire. We must make an attempt to tilt power in the favour of the rebels, in particular on the southern front as that appears to be where gains could be most crucial and concentrate efforts on the capturing of major cities. Over the past few months, these forces have made various significant breakthroughs that with Western support could become pivotal: a key example being FSA forces gaining control of the Aleppo suburb of Khan Al-Assal, important as it controls one of the major routes in and out of the city. Without question Aleppo and Demascus are crucial and their acquisition must be at the top of any Western agenda yet the capturing of military positions must remain of equal importance. Demascus in particular has been somewhat of stumbling block for rebel forces with conflict only really taking place in the suburbs, a significant military presence has made breaking these lines near impossible; any gains here could influence the tilt Western forces need. Furthermore, political infrastructure must be attacked from the air to disjoint national army forces and buy time for further advances. In addition to this it is a given that the Assad family must be targeted as their influence is crucial, not only in a directional but also motivational capacity for national combatants.
It is only once rebels have control of major strongholds, the Assad family are dead and chemical weapons stores are destroyed that Western entities can throw full weight behind the rebels; any other form of intervention will show coalition forces as invaders rather than liberators, not only damaging an already disjointed global reputation but risking angering rebel forces themselves. All in all, it must be said that any intervention is a careful one, for Obama is walking a flaming tightrope and many in the East are praying for a fall.
Further reading/points of interest: