It’s time for West to intervene in Syria
Wednesday’s brazen rebel bombing attack in Damascus, the influx of small arms and funding to anti-regime forces, and a string of high-level defections may have fundamentally altered the facts on the ground in Syria. But this may just be wishful thinking.
What we know for sure is that the humanitarian crisis in Syria looks and feels a lot like the bloody ethnic strife of the Balkans in the early 1990s. Think back to the wanton slaughter of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, the mass rapes and grim concentration-like camps, and the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons.
Do we really want to go back to this period when 200,000-250,000 people perished and hundreds of thousands were internally displaced? At that time, it took years of mass murder and sectarian mayhem before the West intervened with a muscular bombing campaign. That was the only language then-leader Slobodan Milosevic and his vicious Serb forces understood.
Fast-forward to what is happening in Syria today. It’s painfully obvious that UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan is in tatters — as are other international diplomatic efforts.
More than 16,000 Syrians have already perished; there have been reports of systematic rape and summary executions of children. It certainly looks like Syria is engulfed in a full-fledged civil war and, worse still, a ruthless “ethnic cleansing” campaign, with the minority Alawites and their surrogates going house-to-house to exterminate the Sunni majority.
How many massacres need to happen before we stand up and say enough is enough?
What should we say to the father and husband who just lost his wife and daughter in another massacre perpetrated by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? He no doubt wants to know why we allow this murderous rampage to go on.
We could say, as many have already, that Syria is not Libya and that Assad has far superior military forces and air defences than Gadhafi. We could also say that China and Russia are blocking UN endorsement; that the Arab League is uncertain; and that other regional countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Iran could easily be brought into any outside military invasion scenario. These are all legitimate considerations.
Others will point to fissures within the Syrian opposition (and the possible inclusion of al-Qaida disciples), the potential risk to civilians of any foreign military assault, and the prospect of no feasible exit strategy once the West does invade.
There is also the ever-present political dynamic — that is, the fear of Western governments of getting bogged down in Syria, putting our soldiers in harm’s way. Clearly, the thought of Afghanistan has given war-weary people in North America and Europe good reason to pause. To be sure, U.S. President Barack Obama — with an election looming — has no stomach for such an operation.
But are these reasons sufficient to justify doing precious little? If we were in the shoes of the Syrian opposition movement, would we accept these rationalizations?
We need to remember that Assad, like Milosevic, is counting on us sitting on our hands and watching safely from the sidelines. In fact, he’s banking on our lack of political will and determination.
We’ve seen this disturbing picture of atrocity in Bosnia before, and we’re going to see it again, I’m afraid. Unless, of course, we decide to do something drastic now to stop it. And the only purposeful way of stopping further bloodshed in Syria is for the West or NATO (with the assistance of some Arab states) to invade militarily with overwhelming force.
The bombs will need to rain down on various Syrian cities and villages; military installations and general infrastructure will have to be destroyed; and Syrian ground troops will need to be hit hard. We can’t avoid putting “boots on the ground” to halt further slaughter. There is just no other way to stop the carnage.
Yes, it will be very messy, bloody and politically risky. Men and women of our armed forces will certainly die — but it will be in the defence of humanity. Otherwise, we will continue to watch the body count climb, wait in vain for the Russians, and hope against hope that the brutal killing will stop.
But the devastated Syrian father is still waiting for a satisfactory answer to his cry for help. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that we have one.
Peter McKenna is professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.