Back in November, I argued that it was time to take more vigorous action to end the civil war in Syria and help topple the increasingly illegitimate Assad regime. I suggested, in particular, providing more support to the opposition, including to the armed opposition (the Free Syrian Army) and also possibly employing air strikes against Assad’s forces and the imposition of “buffer” or “safe” zones to protect some population centers from his thugs. Turkish forces, I suggested, would have to take the lead in that.
Since then, not much has happened beyond more killing. With the death toll over 5,000 and the revolt still not extinguished, Syria continues to sink deeper and deeper into a civil war, even as the Obama administration blithely pronounce Bashar al-Assad’s days to be numbered. Sure they are. But are we talking about two weeks, two months, two years or two decades? The number of days he has left matters, because in the time remaining to him he can still inflict considerable misery on the Syrian people and draw neighboring states into a ruinous civil war.
That is why I am glad to see some distinguished friends and colleagues joining the argument that the U.S. needs to do more to bring down Assad. Three articles in this regard are worth checking out.
First Robert Danin, formerly of the NSC, now at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the U.S. can take more non-military action against Assad—viz., recall the U.S. ambassador, threaten to close the U.S. embassy, create an international contact group to handle Syria, provide more support to the opposition, keep Syria on the UN agenda and indict Assad for war crimes. Those all sound like sensible steps to me, although I’m skeptical they will be enough to make the difference.
Another Council colleague, Steve Cook, argues for going further. He believes “it’s time to think seriously about intervening in Syria,” by which he means military intervention along the lines of the Libya model—and acting even without UN authorization.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, more or less endorses that argument by citing R2P—the doctrine that the international community has a “responsibility to protect” civilians who are being slaughtered by their own governments. She adds, however, that any intervention would have to meet certain conditions: it would have to be requested by the Syrian opposition, endorsed by the Arab League, limited to protecting civilians (not regime change as in Libya), supported by most members of the UN Security Council (even if Russia will never go along), and with Arab and Turkish troops in the lead. All those conditions save the third one make sense to me: if we’re going to act, the best way to alleviate civilian suffering is by removing its cause—the Assad regime.
All three articles are thought-provoking and worth reading. I am heartened to see more interest in helping to topple Assad. But so far little of that interest has come from the Obama White House. Perhaps that will change with more liberal voices, such as these, joining the argument.