Act Against Assad: Now is the Time For Multilateral Action in Syria


Now is the time for action in Syria.  

Atrocities are escalating. Red Cross workers were obstructed on Friday by regime soldiers in Homs, attempting to transport dire needed medical supplies, blankets, and food. There are reports of executions and a scorched-earth offensive. British Prime Minister David Cameron has proclaimed Homs, “a scene of medieval barbarity.” Conditions in Baba Amr, the once rebel garrison, have been described as “catastrophic.” Amid these grave circumstances, encouraging dialogue across the international community is raising expectations of multilateral engagement.  

The Assad regime will neither surrender arms nor concede authority. The Syrian people under siege in Hama and Homs and elsewhere, the Free Syria Army, and the Syrian National Council are imploring the international community for assistance. The first six months of the conflict saw the monthly death toll average 500 people, increasing every month since, culminating in 1,151 killed in January. Moral justification to act is incontrovertible. A vigilant diplomacy must be exhausted, precedent to military intervention. Still, multilateral engagement ought to be given earnest consideration concurrently. 

Muscular diplomatic overtures will be necessary to compel Bahar al-Assad to choose whether to leave peacefully or under bombardment. Absent a viable threat of multilateral military action, to which his regime would be tested severely, Assad has no cause to voluntarily give up power. Instead, he continues to scoff at the worldwide (save for his sole friends, Russia and China) condemnation of his assault on his own countrymen. This is no statesman. Rather, a brutal, pathological, totalitarian. Were exhaustive diplomatic overtures aimed at convincing Assad of a mutually assured ceasefire to fail, immediately there must follow a humanitarian response, as articulated by Anne-Marie Slaughter, to formulate “safe zones.” Rebels would be properly trained as well as armed.  

Changing dynamics in the responses from Middle Eastern leaders indicates positive movement. Saudi Arabia is calling for the rebels to be armed and trained, while Qatar has recommended “humanitarian corridors” and security intervention. The president of Tunisia seeks an Arab peacekeeping force and Turkey has kept deeply involved. Russia’s Vladimir Putin made a dramatic turn last night, expressing his desire for a ceasefire and negotiation, though he cautioned involvement from the West. Yet, strong Arab support and action could, if warranted in the case of failed diplomacy, engender Western responsiveness. 

Ideally, these maneuvers would result in brokerage of a ceasefire, permitting shared peacekeeping forces, led by the Arab states, to facilitate the receding of regime troops from civilian sectors. With continued strident sanctions and the influence of the Arab League, the United Nations, France, Britain, Turkey, and the United States, a plan for transitional leadership could be instituted. 

As with all destructive conflicts, the aftermath is where the real work need be done and where a vision for a rebuilt future is critical. As Prime Minister Cameron assuredly stated, “We need to start collecting the evidence now so that one day, no matter how long it takes, there will be a day of reckoning for this dreadful regime.” 

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