Hussein Ibish

Get used to it: Intervention in Syria is coming

The United States faces a terrible conundrum regarding Syria. The Obama administration wants the regime of Bashar al-Assad gone, but it does not want to see the unfolding of the very processes—conflict and possible international intervention—that seem to be emerging as the only viable means to achieve that.
This means that the United States has condemned itself to thus far playing an almost entirely reactive role, even in the context of the limited means at its disposal to influence events in Syria. However, standing on the sidelines and warning all players not to do what they are already doing is not going to work.
Washington is very reasonably anxious about the prospect of a widespread civil conflict—with or without a direct international dimension—because it worries about both the process and the outcome.
A civil war in Syria would likely have a strongly sectarian character and the potential to spill over into neighboring states such as Lebanon and Iraq, posing a significant threat to regional stability. It could also prove a protracted, bloody mess.
At least as troubling from Washington's perspective is that the outcome is very uncertain. What the aftermath would look like is even more unclear than it was in Libya, where the stakes were considerably lower. The possibilities of stalemate, regional conflict, de facto partition, communal cleansing, waves of refugees, empowerment of extremists and other grim scenarios all inform a strong American desire not to see the emergence of civil war in Syria.
This conundrum is shared not only by other Western powers but some Arab states and many in the Syrian opposition, including a large group in the Syrian National Council’s leadership, as well.
But none of these actors are in control of events on the ground, which seem to be moving inexorably toward intensified armed conflict and away from a political battle. The regime has presented the Syrians in general, as well as the international community, with a binary choice: Take us as is, or face an open-ended conflict with uncertain outcomes.
Opposition forces on the ground that seem to answer directly to no one, such as the Free Syrian Army, have in effect waved aside repeated warnings from Western and Arab leaders, and senior SNC figures, that militarizing the conflict plays into the hands of the regime. That's certainly true on paper, where the Syrian army would seem to dwarf the size and capabilities of the fledgling insurgent groups, but the political story tells a different tale as the regime's hold on power and legitimacy has never looked more precarious and, indeed, doomed.
Even though it is the regime that is deliberately pushing Syria toward civil war, and the opposition might have been wiser to avoid armed conflict, these events have developed their own momentum, and reversing it will be difficult if not impossible.
The problem for the United States is that all of its more obvious intermediate solutions seem bound to fail. The present Arab League initiative at the UN, based largely on the Yemen model of coerced transition, seems unlikely to gain Security Council approval. And, if it did, there's no reason to believe it would be a functional model for regime change in Syria. Even if strengthened economic and other sanctions mandated by the Security Council could be achieved over Russian objections, historical precedent strongly suggests they would also have a very limited impact.
The preferred scenario, of course, is to persuade Russia by various means—possibly including reassurances about the long-term future of its precious warm-water Mediterranean port on the Syrian coast in Tartus—to relent on its uncompromising support for the Assad regime.
However, in the long run, Russian opposition to intensified sanctions, blockades and other coercive measures, potentially including military intervention, could be bypassed through a General Assembly 377 resolution. Such “uniting for peace” measures were precisely designed to get around repeated vetoes by a permanent member of the Security Council. Similarly, Security Council super majorities and strongly-worded Arab League statements can give substantial measures—even if subject to a lone veto—political and moral authority.
Although it is very hard to speculate on the exact trajectory, all signs in Syria point toward the escalation of the insurgency into a civil war and the need, like it or not, for more aggressive and even direct forms of international intervention. Certainly the conditions for such a move are not yet ripe, both diplomatically and on the ground.
However, all the variables in play suggest that the armed conflict will only intensify and that direct outside intervention of some kind, for humanitarian, strategic and political reasons, is eventually coming. The West, and the United States in particular, would be well advised to start getting used to this idea and begin preparing for it now.
Hussein Ibish writes frequently about Middle Eastern affairs for numerous publications in the United States and the Arab world. He blogs at www.Ibishblog.com.

  • Kate

    The writer of the article believes that America should deploy and intervene everywhere around the world whether a sovereign country or not. What gives the U.S. some authoritative right to act as though we are GOD may I enquire? Man creates NOTHING, but quagmires, Death and destruction everywhere he goes and the writer only encourages more of it. Tell you what "writer", get your combat boots on and get to fighting for your fake and false Idol named "America". Take the veil away from your eyes and turn of Fox, CNN and MSNBC! You act as though GOD defends Americas Abominations that HAS reached His nostrils up to high heaven!

    March 29, 2012

  • Khaled

    I wouldn’t trust the US. Bush Senior gave a speech on Feb 15, 1991 where he urged "the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step down." The Shia and the Kurds believed him. By March 1991, 14 of 18 Iraqi provinces were in open revolt and winning. General Wafik Samarii, former chief of Iraqi military intelligence, told ABC News that "the uprising almost succeeded.... At the very end, we had only two days of Kalashnikov bullets left over in the warehouses of the Iraqi army." Saddam was rescued by what seemed an unlikely ally the U.S. government. The Shia and the Kurds were gassed by Saddam Hussein.

    February 9, 2012

  • Me

    Isn't it funny that the "democratic" machinations of the Arab League - rather the GCC League, wielded by two of the six Gulf monarchies composing the Gulf Cooperation Council, [also known as Gulf Counter-revolution Club]; Qatar and the House of Saud have been trying to bring "democracy" to Syria? Why ask the UN to liberate Syria when they have arms worth billions of dollars to do the job themselves. The Saudis didn’t need the UN approval to "liberate" Bahrain.

    February 5, 2012

  • What planet this guy on?!

    Hopefully it will be a democratic Syria ready to sign peace treaty with Israel in return for de-militarized Golan returned to Syria as per international law. U.S. intervention would only help the awful Assad Regime. The US Government has no money for a war, any way, which is good thing because US involvement would delay Evil Regime's fall. No - the intervention will be from NATO's largest army nation, Turkey. Turkey will eventually set up safe zones for civilians in northern Syria, and Syria will implode economically before parliamentary democracy and freedom are restored and peace with Israel is made.

    February 4, 2012

  • MAHA

    Exactly why should the U.S. get involved? From a U.S. perspective, if there is a bloody civil war, so what? What is the case for U.S. intervention, U.S. expense and U.S. military lives we lost enough lives in Iraq Nd afghanistan.. NO THANK you , We will have a revolutio here if the US will intervene, we have other domestic problems in our country, tHIS WRITER IS SOMTHING ELSE..

    February 2, 2012

  • Hassan

    I doubt it; it is clear now that Syria is an exceptional to the world. You start wondering why and you are left only with the conspiracy theories. Was there an agreement with the father Hafez to safeguard Israel? Was the Golan paid for to protect Israel and used for propaganda only. Why wasn’t Syria on the axis of evil? The US was clear; no intervention, not getting involved. Clinton stated the history with Syria is different. And from other countries, only condemnation and sanctions. Even Israel, just for the sake of news, condemned violence once. Actually, Israel was scared that control will be lost on Golan. Not only that, but after this brutal killing the world still accepted reform from Bashar. What a joke. They say “A picture is worth a thousand words”; look at the map and how Israel is protected. The bizarre thing, and supposedly they are enemies; both Hezboallah and Israel want the regime to stay. Don’t lie to us Hezboallah; many are ready for a treaty with Israel.

    February 1, 2012

  • Michael

    @Sayed . You mention Zionists ? Are you so brainwashed that's all you come up with? US doesn't give a cap about Syria. Go die for your country you ingrate . Cry about us propping up urn cap leaders. But then cry &say US is occupying your shithole country. You're a bigot/racist Nazi.

    February 1, 2012

  • Samera Sayed

    Its not going to happen. This news is just people steering the pot, so to force Americans to intervene or support the rebels/protester gone violent. America should stay out. I hope Obama does not get pushed into it by the Zionist Jews. Syrians will be sorry they asked for help and they will blame the us just like Libya.

    February 1, 2012

  • Mladen

    If opposition truly embraced liberal values, they would proclaim equality in front of law, regardless of race, religion, gender and political affiliation as a centrepiece of future constitution. But it's more likely country would end up like Iraq. Give power in Syria to Salafist and you killed Arab secularism. Get used to it.

    January 31, 2012

  • Toady

    After the removal of a terrible dictator in Iraq, western armies received attacks, bombs and extreme contempt from the rest of the Arab world. The West isn't interested in repeating the experience. The Arabs don't lack for terrorist talent. Maybe they could put it to something useful.

    January 31, 2012

  • AJ

    Mr, Schuler is awesome

    January 31, 2012

  • Adam Neira

    Prayers for Syria. Outside military intervention or a no fly zone are not options at the moment.

    January 31, 2012

  • usa1

    It could be a very bloody civil war indeed...

    January 31, 2012

  • cs

    Where are the "Hala'biyi...? To the people of Aleppo: When are you going to wake up? When they arrest another 100 of your "shabab", as they did yesterday, or when they return them to you, on your doorsteps, with a bullet in their heads? Wake up (...), before it is too late for you to wake up....!!!

    January 31, 2012