Home > General Politics > Intervention in Syria: a cautious acknowledgement of its benefits

Intervention in Syria: a cautious acknowledgement of its benefits

When one reads about the shootings in Syria, the killings, those who have gone missing at sea, the burning metal plates on which Assad’s lackeys place a victim in order to extract information from them – one cannot help be emotionally torn. Something must be done – and fast! But what?

The Syrian national council (SNC), so far recognised by 6 UN member states as the government-in-exile, is a split body. It has not yet formally accepted foreign intervention as a viable strategy to end the Assad regime, but then has the same teething problems as did the Libyan national council – that is organising amongst a rainbow coalition of varying different political directions, many of which are totally at odds.

An opposition of the size we’re talking about, in Syria, combining Islamists, Communists, liberal secularists and anything in between is always going to have complications operating, but analysis on the Syrian case shows divide is far more intrinsic and unceasing.

Even if consistency on foreign intervention was brought to fruition by the opposition groups, the legal case for western-backed military intervention would be frustrated by Russia and China – nations with too many business and diplomatic interests in Assad’s Syria, whose priorities are not to rock this particular boat (Russia having recently sent a flottila to Syria to symbolise its opposition to regime change).

Furthermore, Assad’s muscle men on the ground have been taking on protesters with bullets, utilising small mob groupings to contain dissent on the ground. Not only would intervention – like the one rumoured for Syria, reported PressTV (often hard to take seriously) – be tricky from western backers, far more so than in Libya where a No Fly Zone (NFZ) had obvious and immediate benefits, there is no safe base for rebels to coordinate resistence from. There is, as yet, no Benghazi of Syria.

As the American commentator David Dietz put it:

The problem isn’t a lack of military might or intelligence capabilities, but rather a lack of political resolve […] there is no clear group to save or a unified opposition to back [and] [t]he protesters are not based in an iconic square or area like they were in Egypt.

All this speaks to the great difficulties that dialogue between concerned nations and the Syrian opposition groups will have. But for some of the less thoughtful critics of military engagement in Syria, one is forgiven for suspecting that how complex intervention would be really doesn’t matter anyway.

Mehdi Hasan, in a piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free, published in December last year, treads through the same motions as those I’ve explained above.

There is no call for [foreign military intervention] by opposition leaders, a NFZ would be of little value as Assad is operating with use of small clans on the ground, and a carpet bombing campaign would not help the opposition.

All well and good, but his primary belief shows itself right at the end of the piece, in fact the very last line, where he says: “The sad truth is, it is not our job to topple Assad.”

This simply overrides all previous considerations Hasan has made regarding how operationally difficult it would be to engage foreign action – and like the opinion of Alex Callinicos that the West did not have the moral authority to avert humanitarian crisis in Libya on the grounds that western capitalism destroys people at home, therefore opting for nothing to happen, allowing Gaddafi to unleash hell on his own people as revenge for daring to speak out against him, so Hasan believes it is a good and responsible principle that when a people are losing a fight for the freedoms we enjoy, the west should sit on its hands and watch because it is “not our job to topple Assad”. Well how terribly principled and privleged.

And because this seems to be the rule of the day, particularly for the political left, one is forced to seek information elsewhere on how to try and overcome the operational difficulties that engagement of the military would have right now. Seemingly, Michael Weiss has made the best effort to date, in his report Intervention in Syria? An Assessment of Legality, Logistics and Hazards.

In it he exemplifies the attacks that Turkey has experienced upon its embassies in Damascus, which raises questions of self-defense – and if ever there was a more prescient time for Turkey to do something, it is now after more than 10,000 refugees from Jisr al-Shughour fled to Antakya, in mid-June.

Problems here are obvious. Turkey has never conducted a humanitarian intervention on its own and it is unlikely to start now. Therefore a UN security council resolution authorising a NATO-led intervention or an Anglo-French-American-Turkish would assist in the defense of those parts of Turkey under attack – grounding the legal step that would later assist in halting the crimes perpetuated by Assad on his own people, in spite of sanctions and calls from foreign leaders to stand down.

Next for Weiss’ report is to note the Northwest province of Idleb as the best place to build up a “safe zone” (like Benghazi to the Libyan rebels) as anti-Assad sentiment is reasonably high. The Syrian military is already quite weak, numbering 450,000, ground troops at 100,000, reliant on soviet-era weaponry, including Naval facilities, and therefore is unlikely to be able to resist an intervention by a coalition of willing nations under legal writ.

Sanctions have done little to curb Assad’s brutality, and 10 months of peaceful protest by an opposition in Syria has resulted, at least, in 5,000 killed, 50,000 missing, 59,000 declared incarcerated and 16,000 dispossessed. The Arab League is to consider ending its monitoring process in Syria as violence continue, the Free Syrian Army has publicly threatened to escalate attacks against the Assad regime, and French President Sarkozy has said that Assad is committing massacres. Assad is ignoring all diplomatic calls to stop the violence – and when an autocrat breaches this level, history shows there are few peaceful alternatives left in the armory.

As Luke Bozier said recently: “Assad is a stubborn player, and he will have to be forced out.”

On top of all this, chemical weaponry is a real possibility. Syria has amassed a large cache, and is rumoured to have been building up more.

As I began, something must be done – time is running out and people are being slaughtered. The Syrian rebels need to appropriate what worked in Egypt and Libya by occupying a “safe zone”, they need to come together to commit to a working set of principles and arrangements vis-à-vis on agreeing a plan for engaging with foreign military powers. All legal procedures need to be completed, all alternatives need to be exhausted, and proven to be unhelpful (like sanctions – if more proof were needed), and the case for responsibilities beyond our own borders needs to be made once more. It worked in Libya, we should all like to see it work in Syria.

  1. January 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm


    It has not yet formally accepted foreign intervention as a viable strategy
    Better make sure before forcing it on them.
    concerned nations
    Other adjectives may apply.
    opting for nothing to happen
    regretting that the Libyan revolution had been sidetracked into replacing Gadaffi with a Western -backed clique does not equivalate to doing nothing or wanting Gadaffi to win. See repeated expressions by SWP members that they are glad he’s gone.
    Michael Weiss has made the best effort to date
    All praise the HJS.Or not.
    something must be done – time is running out and people are being slaughtered.
    Then if the FSA want guns they should get them, but imperialist intervention does nothing to promote democracy and everything to encourage future dictatorships.
    It worked in Libya
    A lot of massacring, both by the rebels and by Western bombing. Better an end to the horror than a horror without end, but this isn’t the way to end the rule of tyrants.[Further on Libya here]

    • January 4, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      Better an end to the horror than a horror without end

      Couldn’t agree more, but, to put it simplistically, why would we bother doing evil (war) that good may result (Romans 3:8) if this option, this very simple option, was available? You make it sound like intervention is enacted for its own sake, and there are no grounds to say this.

  2. skidmarx
    January 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    It’s enacted for the sake of the influence the intervening Powers will have over the new government and the country’s resources, something that seems like a reasonable conclusion from the experience of previous interventions.

    I might have been more precise at the end. I was saying that one justification for the cost of overthrowing Gadaffi was such, but the greater the outside involvement, the less the chance that this really is an end to tyranny.

    Even at Harry’s Place they are mostly staying away from this Nick Cohen madness.[John 3:16 really isn’t true, you know]

    • Dave
      January 15, 2012 at 5:05 pm

      skidmarx :
      It’s enacted for the sake of the influence the intervening Powers will have over the new government and the country’s resources, something that seems like a reasonable conclusion from the experience of previous interventions.

      Which? The Iraqi government are for more Iranian than they are American, and fully behind Assad. Most of the oil has gone to the Chinese. As for Libya, its far too soon to tell, but the vast majority of the oil was going to western companies anyway, most of whom made big losses from the intervention.
      I know the ‘evil west controls the world’ narrative is simpler, but that doesnt make it true

  3. Ellis
    January 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    There is a very good article today at Asia Times Online. The basic problem with this imperialist tosh is that the author takes propaganda in the media as information. It is too bad he doesn’t remember that both Iraq and Libya were preceded by campaigns of incredible lies, because the same thing is happening with regard to Syria and Iran.
    Does the author really believe that NATO, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have the tiniest interest in removing tyrants or protecting dissent? The evidence would suggest that their concern is to defend tyranny and suppress dissent and that the primary interest here is to weaken Iran’s strategic position.
    I really wish that warmongering involved a commitment to volunteer personally to share the fate of the populations being attacked, to move to Damascus or Tehran and explain why aerial bombing or criminal terrorism by NATO/Mossad agents is of benefit to the Persians or Syrians.
    The only consolation is that if NATO does attack Syria it will, once again, be weakening itself . The “west” has sacrificed all the real “soft” power that it had carefully built up over generations for a few years of blind, cowardly, sadistic bullying of defenceless populations. It is beginning to unite the masses of the planet in contemptuous hatred; which is terrible news for the ordinary working people of our lands whose crime has been not to do more to stop the evil being done in our names.
    Syria is already riddled with agents of imperialism, supplying snipers rifles and explosives for suicide bombing, assassinating key figures and disrupting the economy. And all this, mind you, in the name of affording the people democratic rights.

  4. Herbie destroys the environment
    January 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    100% agee with Ellis, you are reporting the stories coming from Syria as fact. When these stories are flimsy at best and propaganda war drums at worst. You are simply a servile tool of imperialism by uncritically accepting the media’s reprting. Too many leftists have suspended disbelief, the Iraq lies are a distant memory.

    I oppose any military adventure.

  5. January 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Wow listen to yourselves – propaganda?? You sound like something between a CPGB-ML old rock and Assad talking about al Qaeda to save his own arse.

    As for that article, the best the author could do at one stage was quote a Russian official – if you want propaganda as information I suggest you look no further than this.

    But you seem to think you’re on to something here, and have your heads heads above the parapet – what should I believe? Is Assad simply the victim of western imperialist attack?

  6. February 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    The link to ” Intervention in Syria? An Assessment of Legality, Logistics and Hazards.” doesn’t work

    Try http://henryjacksonsociety.org/2011/12/20/intervention-in-syria-an-assessment-of-legality-logistics-and-hazards/

  7. June 16, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Two big problems with the blog post above (though it is 6 months old so maybe the author’s views have changed as new facts have come out?)

    First the US and it’s allies have never, ever carried out a humanitarian intervention in the Middle East (i.e one in which they saved civilians’ lives rather than killed and tortured more of them) , with the exception of the 1991 Northern-no fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan, which did save lives, even if for dodgy motives and during a war in which US bombing killed an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 civilians by targeting not only military targets but civilian ones like water and sewage treatment works and electricity generators.

    In Iraq it was US snipers and artillery targeting civilians and ambulances in Falluja in both the April and November 2004 offensives, with 600 civilians killed in the April one alone – and the same in offensives on Samarra and other cities. That’s before you get on to the El Salvador style US trained ‘Iraqi Police Commando’ death squads , promoting sectarian civil war by allying first with Shia paramilitaries against Sunnis then paying Sunni militias to fight Sadr’s militias for opposing the oil law the US wanted ; plus letting Al Qai’da in due to the chaos created.

    Second if the US and its allies had the slightest concern for saving civilians from being tortured and killed by dictatorships they wouldn’t still be arming and funding and supporting the murdering dictatorships and military regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi and Egypt. In fact they are – and the Obama administration and the British government have both more than doubled the value of arms sales to the Yemeni regime as it uses artillery, tanks, mortars and snipers on unarmed protesters.

    Third their real motive – as defined even by the head of Security Studies at Haifa university in Israel – is to further isolate Iran by removing its only ally in the middle east.

    They have not the slightest concern for civilian lives or democracy. The Saudi and Qatari are openly funding the rebels and are arming them to, with US approval, as in Libya.

    The rebels are also committing atrocities including car bombings killing civilians, using child soldiers and “executing” civilians they accuse of “collaboration”. Also from BBC reports based on western observers’ investigations, none of the victims of the Houla massacre had their throats slit and who was responsible for it and their motives are not known.

    For sources and more details see my blog post here

  1. January 4, 2012 at 11:04 pm
  2. January 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm
  3. January 5, 2012 at 5:05 am
  4. January 6, 2012 at 8:03 pm
  5. February 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm

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