The horror taking place in Syria is not to be questioned. The way it is utilized by western media, is. The moral need to do something about Syria is not to be questioned. The way morale is utilized for political reasons, is. The fact that Assad must go is not to be questioned. It is the “how” that needs to be discussed and the western-style intervention – which has become a habit – that needs to be questioned. The thoughtlessness of the intervention advocates, with regard to the case of Syria specifically, is unbearable.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been bombarded with “Responsibility to Protect” rhetoric; we’ve been reminded of the (U.S.) need to intervene in Syria to weaken Iran, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas; we’ve been told of all the positive effects a new Syrian regime would have for the region; we’ve been pointed out how useful regional countries (e.g. Turkey) would be in a potential intervention; how Russia would care, but not so much as to cause problems, and so on. It is as if everyone stopped thinking rationally and stopped weighing the costs and benefits. To be honest though, depending on one’s perspective of the situation, the costs and benefits could be entirely different. What would be the objective of an intervention, really? Would it be Iran? Would it be Hamas and Hezbollah? Would it be the Russian interests in the Middle East? Would it be the protection of the Syrian people under the “Responsibility to Protect” umbrella? Or is the “Responsibility to Protect” just the moral cover-up – and the ultimate immoral means – for the achievement of all previous, and more, objectives? I would vote for the latter. In any case, an intervention – if it were to take place – should be about the people. But the fact is that there is no scenario in which the Syrian people – or the region, for that matter – would benefit from an intervention. There are at least five main reasons for that, briefly presented below, which are linked to the simplifications put forward by the intervention advocates.
1. The perspective: Most analyses about Syria come from a U.S., or European, (“moral”) perspective. It is easy to say “intervene” when you live half a world away (or if you are Israeli). It is easy not just because of the long distance (U.S.) but because of the geopolitical opportunity as well (for the U.S., E.U., and Israel). The “Iran-Syria-Hezbollah” triangle, and their comrade, Hamas, have been bothering the West for quite some time. Further, the Syrian crisis emerged at a time when the “westerners” are having serious problems with Iran and its nuclear program. How does that have anything to do with the suffering of the Syrian people, and how does that entail a plan for a just post-intervention transition in Syria? It doesn’t.
2. The Russian factor: Syria has been compared to Kosovo and to how Russia, despite its criticism of the NATO bombings, did not react in 1999. However, the U.S. is not the superpower it used to be, and Russia is now over the post-Soviet/post-traumatic stress. Moreover, Syria is very important for the Russian interests in the Middle East; much more important than Libya was. Downplaying the Russian factor, is a crucial mistake; one that would eventually have real costs only for the people of Syria.
3. Turkey: There is a widespread misconception that Turkey wants to intervene in Syria or that it would be unconditionally supportive of a western intervention. But what about the Kurds and the PKK in particular? Are you not seeing the mounting violence within Turkey and the government’s efforts for a political solution? Don’t you think that if Turkey wanted to intervene in Syria it would have already done so? Yes, Turkey wants Assad to go, but it realizes the dangers that come with an intervention. What Turkey is concerned about right now is the settlement of the Syrian crisis without further destabilization and without an intervention – which would again lead to destabilization. If Turkey, along with other regional countries, were to intervene in Syria, it would have to be under certain conditions: Turkey would have to take the lead, it would have to somehow justify the intervention to Iran so as to avoid another confrontation, and Russia would have to back down, or at least adopt a neutral stance. These are no simple conditions. And again, they have nothing to do with the moral need of helping the Syrians.
4. The “history of intervention”: Assuming there were no problems at all; what “successful” case of intervention should the West keep in mind as it carries out its intervention in Syria? Iraq? Afghanistan? Libya? Not to mention the Balkans. It is true that, for example, Saddam and Gaddafi are gone, while some argue that Iraq is now “a better place”. Need I remind you, though, that the “reconstruction” of Iraq was not the reason of the intervention in the first place? And is it so hard to see that Iraq is anything but a stable state? It is ridden by sectarian problems and the indirect control of external – mainly regional – powers. At least the Libyans called for an intervention, although the result is still a “new Iraq” in the making: secessionist movements, tribal fights, etc. It is time to realize that there is more to it than just toppling a dictator, which, again, is irrelevant to the real and long-term needs of the people, but rather relates to geopolitics and economics.
5. Operations: The final reason why there cannot be a military intervention, favorable for the Syrian people, regards the operational dimension of the debate. Indeed, the Free Syrian Army has no significant territory under its authority; its fight and man power is limited whereas the regime is still strong (unlike the case of Libya). The revolts have already spilled over into Lebanon which means that an intervention would not leave Hezbollah indifferent. Iran has already showed its support to the Syrian regime while it has been reported that arms are being transferred from Iran to the Syrian government through Iraq. The Russian interests have already been mentioned, let alone the reports for alleged Russian military assistance to the Assad regime. An intervention could easily initiate a large scale proxy, or even direct, war between all these actors. This would in no way benefit the Syrians or the countries of the region. The possibility alone of such a development should be enough for people to stop thinking of a military intervention in Syria.
Although no one outside Syria has the right to speak on behalf of the Syrians, it seems that an intervention would cause more harm than good. Because of what has been analyzed above, articles, as well as politicians, that advocate intervention in Syria, are rather dangerous. There is much more at stake here than just the western/U.S. interests in the Middle East, or the regional balance of power. The objective is the long-term well-being of the Syrian people. Again, unquestionably Assad must go. Preferably the infrastructure of the regime must go with him; but this is very difficult as the cases of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and even Libya, showed. There has to be a political/diplomatic solution which will result in regime change. Alternatively, if the Syrian revolt were to become a revolution, then, I humbly believe, the Syrians should be the ones to take the lead and be in control.
Zenonas Tziarras is a PhD Candidate in International Politics at the University of Warwick, UK, and a Junior Research Scholar at Strategy International. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.