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Time is Running Out in Syria

This New York Times article by reporter Anthony Shadid unfortunately confirms my worst apprehensions about where Syria is headed–namely toward a civil war. He writes that:

the government [is] losing control over some regions and its authority ebbing in the suburbs of the capital and parts of major cities like Homs and Hama. Even the capital, Damascus, which had remained calm for months, has been carved up with checkpoints and its residents have been frightened by the sounds of gunfire….

In a town about a half-hour drive from Damascus, the police station was recently burned down and in retaliation electricity and water were cut off, diplomats say. For a time, residents drew water in buckets from a well. Some people are too afraid to drive major highways at night.

In Homs, a city that a Lebanese politician called “the Stalingrad of the Syrian revolution,” reports have grown of sectarian cleansing of once-mixed neighborhoods, where some roads have become borders too dangerous for taxis to cross.

We’ve seen this movie before–in next-door Iraq in 2003-2004–and we know what the ending looks like, with violence reaching catastrophic levels, unless something is done now. But what? The Arab League’s observer mission, a farce to begin with, ended in predictable failure with no sign of the killing abating. The best bet, as I have been arguing for some time, is for outside powers–ranging from the U.S., Britain and France to Turkey and Qatar–to do more to aid the opposition, including the armed opposition, so as to speed up the inevitable collapse of the Assad dictatorship and hasten the formation of a new, and one hopes more democratic, government. That could require a range of steps from providing arms and training to armed rebels, to air strikes, to setting up humanitarian corridors and zones of refuge, where the Assad regime will be prevented from continuing its bloodthirsty ways by the presence of Turkish and/or Arab League troops.

The latter option is not as far-fetched as it might have seemed only a few months ago. Shadid notes: “In a suggestion that reflected the sense of desperation, the emir of Qatar said in an interview with CBS, an excerpt of which was released Saturday, that Arab troops should intervene in Syria to ‘stop the killing.’”

But it is still extremely doubtful the Arab League, which failed to do much with an observer mission, could be induced to take a more active hand. Turkish and Qatari intervention is more possible. But for anything to happen, the U.S. will have to galvanize an active coalition to bring down Assad–something that hasn’t happened yet. Time is running short–more action is needed before the slaughter escalates and possibly even spills over Syria’s borders into such vulnerable neighbors as Iraq and Lebanon.