What is to be done with Syria? The West is in a dilemma: there seems to be little that can be achieved through the diplomatic channels, as these have been blocked by Russia and China, and any military intervention looks extremely unlikely, given the required military resources would far exceed what was deployed in the recent campaign against Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya, however doing nothing would probably translate into witnessing the destruction of Homs and terrible losses of lives. The longer the current bloody repressions continue, broadcast across the world, the louder the clamour will be to do something about it. After all, there is the very recent precedent of intervention in Libya.
Like Libya, Syria represents a dilemma for the West, resulting from two separate sets of traumas, as it were, that the West has recently experienced: it feels that it cannot stand idly by, yet at the same time it is fearful of being dragged into inextricable conflicts. As such, the West will be torn between the two positions, and it is in a very difficult position, where it is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t. The first set of traumas relates to the inaction or insufficiently strong interventions that ended up in humanitarian disasters, such as Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. There were widespread feelings, both in politics and among the populous, that these massacres could and should have been prevented, but were allowed to take place, because the West chose to ignore them. In order to avoid the repeat of such massacres, it is argued by many people that when there is an immanent humanitarian crisis created by a repressive regime or civil war, outsiders are justified, though not obliged, to intervene on behalf of the people whose lives are at risk. The second and more recent set of traumas relates to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially to their seemingly interminable nature, which proved to be costly in terms of troops, money and resources. These wars were not humanitarian intervention as such, however, what matters is that the governments are weary of committing troops, especially ground forces. There are huge doubts regarding the effectiveness of aerial intervention in Syria, both in terms of achieving the aim of protecting the civilians, and in terms of neutralizing a well-equipped and disciplined Syrian military. Furthermore, given the Russian and Chinese position on this issue, there will be problems in terms of legitimacy and legality, if the West were to intervene without a clear UN mandate to do so.
It would be extremely foolhardy to try to predict what is going to happen in Syria. The regime may be able to retain the support of the army and the secuirty apparatus, as well as the acquiescence of a sufficiently large section of the Syrian population, and succeed in repressing its opponents whatever the human cost. Alternatively, the regime may fall, which would not be bloodless either, and the consequences of the regime’s fall may be sectarian violence. It may end up as something between these two: a state without an effective central government. A destabilized and fissiparous Syria is in no one’s interest, especially for the countries and peoples of the region. The Arab League seems to be mooting a more direct manner of intervention in Syria, and this seems to be a promising way to proceed further. However, so long as the Syrian regime continues its policy of repression, the dilemma for the West will continue, and will only become worse.