Military means alone will not end the crisis. Similarly, a political agenda that is neither inclusive nor comprehensive will fail. The distribution of force and the divisions in Syrian society are such that only a serious negotiated political transition can hope to end the repressive rule of the past and avoid a future descent into a vengeful sectarian war.
For a challenge as great as this, only a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition. But a political process is difficult, if not impossible, while all sides ”“ within and without Syria ”“ see opportunity to advance their narrow agendas by military means. International division means support for proxy agendas and the fuelling of violent competition on the ground.
In his statement on the resignation, UN Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon agrees that “Both the Government and the opposition forces continue to demonstrate their determination to rely on ever-increasing violence. In addition, the persistent divisions within the Security Council have themselves become an obstacle to diplomacy, making the work of any mediator vastly more difficult.” TThe first sentence there is an overdue blanket rejection of any suggestion that the rebels want peace more than the Assad regime does. The latter point cuts both ways – it’s as much about bellicose and unthoughtful rhetoric from the US and its allies as it is about Russian or Chinese intransigence in giving the West its own way.
Obama’s decision to authorize greater support for Syrian rebel violence will, I believe, have some unpleasant unintended consequences. Whether because he genuinely feels the need to “do something”, is being pressured to do so by others, or is simply trying to have his cake and eat it too – his famous penchant for “preserving his options” – makes no real odds. Sometimes preserving your options just leaves you adrift at sea – but whether Obama willed it or not he’s now made a decision as to which shore to sail for, and I think it’s the rockiest one. He has now fallen fully into Annan’s characterization of narrow and proxy agendas for violence, making it that much harder for the U.S. to play a meaningful role as a good and fair actor in a negotiated transition or an eventual post-Assad rebuilding in Syria.
Aaron David Miller, writing in FP magazine yesterday, had some good advice [bold emphasis mine].
Nobody has made a compelling case that half-measures — more arms for the opposition, no-fly zones, safe havens — will bring the Assads down. To give these ideas the old college try because we feel compelled to “do something” isn’t a strategy; it’s a wing and a prayer. And after Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s just not good enough to pass the threshold for putting American lives, money, and credibility on the line.
A real coalition of the willing will indeed be required to mend Syria’s wounds — but only after the main battle to defeat the Assads has concluded. An international monitoring and stabilization force could preempt civil war and create the basis for a political transition. International donors conferences will have to be launched to raise the billions of dollars that will be required to get Syria moving economically and to deal with the broken bodies and minds left in the wake of the violence and terror. These are steps that the United States — along with the rest of the international community — can embark upon that will not force it to take sides or plunge ahead with half-baked intervention schemes. And it is this second struggle for Syria that is worth the multilateral effort.
Unfortunately, as Miller was publishing this good advice Obama had already taken the decision to ignore it. He has chosen sides, making the worthwhile struggle to come so much harder.