A Time to Act

Thousands of people have already died in Syria, and it appears likely that thousands more will die in the weeks and months to come. Bashar Al Assad’s forces show no sign of relenting, and the international community shows no sign of coming to the rescue of the Syrian people. China and Russia have effectively blocked any chance of working through the United Nations. World opinion is horrified, but world leaders are paralyzed. No lack of diplomatic effort has been expended in trying to get Assad to back down; but these efforts have done nothing to stop the bloodshed. It now seems possible that non-diplomatic options—namely, arming the rebels or using Western airpower to weaken the regime, as we did so successfully in Libya—might be the only way to halt the killing. Should the United States act on these options? It is not an easy question, but we think that the case for doing so is starting to look stronger than the case against.

Some of the arguments against arming the rebels or deploying airpower in Syria are of the old, cynical, hard-hearted variety; but plenty of others are sober and worth taking seriously. Perhaps the most important is that we know so little about the rebels whose side we would be taking. What kind of country would they build in Assad’s wake? Would the Sunni majority, once in power, exact revenge against the Alawi minority?

The above article will be published in The New Republic Magazine’s issue of March 15th, 2012 and is available as is at tnr.com.

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