Time for NATO to Lead a Military Intervention to Stop the Bloodshed in Syria


The daily slaughter of the Syrian people in Homs and elsewhere must stop. If President Bashar al-Assad continues to refuse to do so, the time has come for the the West to step in.

The pall of the devastating civil war in Lebanon during the 70s and 80s and the more recent sectarian violence in Iraq are the driving forces of inaction in Syria today. Unnerved by the volatility of the Levant region and a history of adverse meddling in the region, Western powers are rightfully wary of once again being seen as interfering in regional politics, especially in a country as geo-politicallly sensitive as Syria. The risks of any military operation is enormous, the cost immense, and the political ramifications untold. 

But America and the West can no longer sit idly by and watch as thousands of Syrians are slaughtered in the streets. 

The death toll in Syria has reached at least six thousand people, with two thousand deaths coming in the past two months alone. The number of dead each day is not counted by the tens but by hundreds.

Buoyed by Russia and China's veto of the UN Security Council Resolution, President Bashar al-Assad has stepped up the assault on Homs and other cities across the country, mercilessly bombarding opposition strongholds with arial assaults and tanks and hunting the opposition with a deadly legion of snipers. To the al-Assad regime, men, women, and young children are all equally fair game.

If America and the UN are truly committed to international law, human rights, and protecting the lives of pro-democracy protesters in Syria, then they must intervene. It is a moral obligation.

Morality in international law however, is tricky, fungible, and too often a double standard. Why intervene in Syria when thousands are dying at the hands of merciless regimes elsewhere in the world?

While a sense of duty or humanistic call to action may be the impetus for intervention, agreeing on a mission comes down to the odds of ensuring a result agreeable to the West in an important strategic region.

In Syria, any military operation will be complex and the outcome unquestionably not as smooth as the recent NATO operation in Libya. That being said, there are enough reasons to believe a mission to stop the continued killing in Syria is worth the risk. In fact, foreign intervention may be the only way to prevent a full scale prolonged conflict which over time could destabilize the whole region.

As the ranks of the main armed opposition movement, the Syrian Free Army, grow, the clearer the divide between the opposition and pro-Assad loyalists becomes. The revolution in Syria has not yet splintered the country by various ethnic and religious factions as happened in Lebanon, rather it has divided the people between opposing anti- and pro-government forces.

Early on, one of the main obstacles to any Western aid of the opposition was its fractured nature. Several groups seeking varied levels of Western support and with differing agendas attempted to speak on behalf on the Syrian opposition, making aid or coordination nearly impossible as Western officials were unsure which groups to trust or how much internal leverage they possessed. Since al-Assad has stepped up the intensity of the attacks, more and more of the opposition has rallied around the Free Syrian Officers in large part because they have shown the courage to resist, fight back, and take on the Syria army.

The stronger the Free Syrian Officers become, the stronger a partner the West has to work with. Similar to how the National Transitional Council became the main alternative to Gaddafi, should the Free Syrian Officer continue to swell in numbers as they recently have, they will have a similar authority to fill the role of a viable alternative to the al-Assad regime.

Critiques point out that we know nothing of the Free Officer movement nor its leaders. This is a fair argument. However in the greater context, at this point it may not matter. Let's examine the alternatives. Should the West chose not to intervene one of two scenarios is likely:

The first, that Assad eventually crushes the opposition and maintains power. His rule is marked by continued turmoil as he constantly must stave off challengers who feel his regime is illegitimate. The second scenario is that Syria collapses into a much more violent and prolonged civil war between the Free Officers and the regime with the Syrian Free Officer movement eventually overthrowing the Assad family.

In both cases, given the escalating violence and ranks of the Free Syrian Army, thousands more people will likely be killed. In option one, a murderous dictator in bed with Hezbollah, with no regard for international law nor his own people and a with hatred of the West, prevails. In option two, the unknown Syrian Free Army takes power. 

Should the West intervene and depose of al-Assad (an assumption that is fairly safe but not certain should the coalition be fully invested), two other possibilities emerge.

The first outcome is that the Syrian Free Army emerges victorious, does indeed live up to its promises of a more free and democratic Syria, and becomes a viable and open partner in the region. 

The second outcome is that the Syrian Free Army turns out to be extremist thugs allied with terrorist groups (or a terrorist organization themselves) that is equally deleterious and authoritarian and soon after receiving NATO assistance to oust al-Assad, turns its back on the West.

In three out of four scenarios, no matter if the West interferes or not, the outcome is frightfully similar: The Syrian people suffer greatly. Just like Gaddafi, al-Assad will fight to the end with an army that far outguns the opposition. The only hopeful scenario involves NATO's intercession. 

The question that must be raised is: Is a militant or radical Islamist led government any worse than al-Assad? Already al-Assad has proven to be a mass murderer, a tyrannical dictator, and a supporter of Hezbollah. Most importantly, there is no chance he will ever be a friend or partner to the West or even the Arab League should he survive.

The grim reality is America is damned if they intervene and damned if they don't with only the slightest chance of getting lucky, sandwiched in between. If we do nothing, whatever regime follows al-Assad will detest us for ignoring their cries for help. If we do intervene we may propel a militant regime to power. And if al-Assad stays, we already know the reception and response the West will receive.

Given that already the Emir of Qatar has floated and supported the idea of military intervention and that the Arab League is pressing the UN to get involved on a larger more forceful scale, it seems that the West would actually have the support of the Arab World. For the first time, inaction may hurt public opinion of the West more than help it. 

Therefore the decision should come down to the military strategy. So long as NATO and the West can develop a comprehensive bombing campaign similar in style to Libya that does not involve a land invasion nor is an especially high risk operation that imperils the lives of numerous NATO and U.S. troops, America and NATO should move forward with preparations as to how best end al-Assad's reign of terror. 

The killing must stop and at this point NATO may be the only force to make sure it does.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons