In the Financial Times, former UN Undersecretary General Michael Williams offers a sobering analysis of the situation in Syria. He compares that country to Yugoslavia and warns that it could be the scene of an equally devastating civil war:
Two-thirds of its population are Sunnis, but the regime draws its principal strength from minorities such as the Christians and the Druze and, above all, the heterodox Islamic sect, the Alawites. Over the years the oft-proclaimed secularism of the regime has been little more than a rejection of Sunni Arab nationalism. The worst case scenario is that Syria, like multi-confessional Yugoslavia, descends into chaos and civil war. That is the black cloud that hangs over not only Syria, but also the whole Levant.
Neighboring Lebanon, the most polyglot Arab county with Sunni, Shia and Christians mixed with Druze and Armenians, lives in fear that a descent into greater conflict within Syria will trigger discord in a country only just recovering from the 1975-90 civil war. Iraq too sees the situation in Syria as deeply destabilizing and one that could reignite the Sunni/Shia conflict of recent years.
Sound far-fetched? Not to me. Syria is being drawn deeper into the throes of all-out war, with the UN reporting more than 5,000 people have already died. The violence shows no sign of abating anytime soon. In that situation, the West’s best bet is not to sit by and hope that the violence burns itself out. That proved a vain hope in Yugoslavia and is no more likely to succeed in Syria. Instead, outside powers must do everything possible to help topple Assad, up to and including multilateral military action (e..g. to establish safe zones or strike Syrian military targets) as suggested by Sen. Lindsay Graham.
The Turks, who are increasingly anti-Assad, would have to take the lead, but the U.S. could provide important help. That would appear to be the fastest way to end Syria’s agony and avoid seeing the bloody parallels with Bosnia pile up.