For the past year, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has used military force to slaughter innocent civilians all across the country, almost as if it were for sport. It’s not just protesters who are being murdered by the thousands, but also children and parents who are only guilty of sitting in their homes minding their own business. The Obama administration indicated today that the United States would not do more than enforce sanctions on Syria and supply humanitarian aid to the rebels and citizens. Of course, there were repeated calls for Al-Assad to step down on behalf of the administration, and it appeared supportive (but not optimistic) of Kofi Annan’s (United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria) peace plan calling for an immediate cease-fire from both sides. But as the deadline for the cease-fire has now passed and the bloodshed still continues, the United States and the international community have a debacle on their hands in choosing not to further escalate involvement in Syria.
On the one hand, the Obama administration is being cautious in not sending weapons to a group of rebels that they consider even more unorganized than the militias we helped in Libya last year. The Obama administration also knows that conducting air strikes would be difficult given the strength of Syria’s air missile capabilities. So naturally, the only measures the Obama administration have pursued so far are economic sanctions and forming an international coalition to denounce President Assad’s actions. But realistically, the United Nations plan was doomed to fail because it lacked the necessary measures of force to get the results it desired. President Assad has been defiant about not stepping down, and he has operated with total impunity. It is utterly absurd to assume that you can force a dictator out of power without giving him a reason to fear the repercussions of his actions. Sanctions are no doubt a powerful diplomatic tool to apply economic pressure to an enemy. But when you have a maniacal villain who doesn’t seem to be affected by a lack of income, it is all but certain you need a stronger measure than diplomacy.
About a month ago, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman brought the idea of a Syria intervention to the table. They made it adamantly clear that they were not arguing for a unilateral response, but instead a multilateral one (similar to Libya) where we establish safe havens for the rebels, give them arms and training, and more substantial aid. Not only is this an entirely appropriate response to an international crisis of this magnitude, it is already in the playbook of the United States. We have taken similar measures in Libya last year and in Bosnia in 1995, and we did so without the presence of 400,000 troops (which is what the pentagon indicated it would have needed to enforce peace in Bosnia). It is incredibly hard for me to believe that we could not develop a military strategy that would establish sanctuaries along the borders of Turkey and Iraq and use these areas to train the rebels and launch bombs against the Syrian army. It doesn’t hurt to at least consider this option, or something of similar logistics. After all, we would almost certainly be remiss if we chose to stand idly by and let President Assad kill another 10,000 people.
Regardless of whether or not one thinks the United States does not need to enter another war (unilaterally or multilaterally), it is virtually impossible to deny that a military intervention would produce more results than the United Nations could ever hope to accomplish. With the support of our allies, we can work together to send a powerful message to President Assad and (indirectly) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It seems that France understands the perilous situation on the ground in Syria. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said today: “The Syrian foreign minister’s statements this morning, affirming an initial implementation of the Annan plan by the Damascus regime, are a fresh expression of this blatant and unacceptable lie.” The statement that Valero was referring to was made by Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem, who apparently told the Russian government today that troops were pulling out and they had begun to observe the cease-fire. Valero was right to call out Syria for the severely deceitful comment, as Syrian troops were still barraging cities today with brute force.
We must also be mindful of the fact that Syria is Iran’s most important ally. Every day that Bashar Al-Assad remains in power, Iran benefits from being able to train militants and terrorists who can easily cross over to neighboring Iraq and ensure chaos. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also directly benefits from the continued arrogance these two men display for democracy and western civilization. It props them up as immovable forces that cannot be swayed by the world’s only superpower. If we don’t stand up to Assad now (and Ahmadinejad soon after), we lose ground on two important aspects on our foreign policy: The first being that we will appear as if our global sphere of influence is shrinking dramatically. The point of becoming a superpower is that you have the ability to use force anywhere at any time, so why wouldn’t we want to use that force justifiably to stop the murders of now tens of thousands? The second aspect of our foreign policy that would be damaged in not standing up to Syria is that it would further the narrative that we pick and choose what dictators we fight. If we stood up to Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, not applying the same force to Bashar al-Assad would send the wrong message and could invite other dictators to spread carnage.
Rather than lead the call to put forth a serious effort to remove the Syrian tyrant, the Obama administration is choosing to join the international community in verbally condemning President Assad to death. Unfortunately, it will not be enough. The United States and the international community already missed an opportunity to save over ten thousand civilians who did not deserve death. Now we need to focus on those who continue to live in fear of a murder brigade. I stand with Senators McCain, Graham and Lieberman. I stand with Jackson Diehl and Jonathan Tobin. The United States and the international community need to intervene in Syria and put an end to the Assad regime. If we don’t, we lose another opportunity to stand up for democracy and send a message to our two biggest foes. We’ve already let the United Nations try to handle this situation, and it has produced zero results. When you speak softly and neglect to implement the big stick, you give your enemies little reason to modify their abhorrent behavior.