Commentary Magazine


We Can’t Watch Syria From the Sidelines

The situation in Syria continues to get grimmer and grimmer as the bloody assault on Homs continues for a 20th straight day. A panel of three UN investigators has accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of crimes against humanity. News reports from Homs, including some by journalists who have died in the process of getting the news out, amply attest to the truth of these charges. Civilian neighborhoods are being shelled without mercy, and the victims have no way to get medical care.

It is difficult to see why the U.S., Britain, France and other nations–which acted last year when Muammar Qaddafi threatened to inflict a similar fate on Benghazi–sit on the sidelines today. The lack of a UN Security Council resolution, blocked by Bashar Assad’s friends in Moscow and Beijing, should hardly prevent the civilized nations of the world from acting as they did in Kosovo. No one suggests sending Western ground troops, but there is much that can still be done, ranging from air strikes to the establishment of safe zones policed by the Turkish army and the provision of arms to the Free Syrian Army, as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been arguing for.

Even if there is no will for any robust intervention, there are small steps that can be made. For instance, in the New York Times today we read of the difficulty of getting the news out about Assad’s murderous assault on Homs, where reporters are banned, electricity is out and few if any Internet connections are available. The Times reports that a private group called the Activists News Association in Cairo and other non-governmental organizations are “helping Syria’s volunteer journalists get the word out, organizing their video postings, compiling videos of the dead and spreading that information by Twitter and Facebook.” This is important work, and if the U.S. government isn’t helping to provide information technology to Syria’s anti-government activists, it should be. That is a bare and inadequate minimum of what we should be doing.