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Direct foreign intervention is the only feasible option for Syria crisis

The recent Geneva agreement is ill fitted to reality in Syria, and a new Human Rights Watch report details torture by the Bashar al-Assad regime. Intervention appears to be the only means for halting human rights violations, stabilizing the conflict, and ensuring a sustainable transition.

By Brock Dahl / July 3, 2012

Black smoke billows from shelling near a mosque in Talbiseh, the central province of Homs, Syria in this image made from amateur video released July 2. Op-ed contributor Brock Dahl acknowledges that 'America cannot act as a global policeman that deploys troops to every crisis-ridden situation' but says: 'Ensuring the end of the Assad regime, if done properly, also has strategic benefits for the US that policymakers should consider.' (The Associated Press cannot independently verify this material.)

Anonymous/Ugarit News via AP video


Palo Alto, Calif.

Over the weekend in Geneva, world powers penned a vague agreement to support the establishment of a transitional government in Syria – potentially composed of members of the opposition and the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The purported solution appears ill fitted to the reality on the ground, however, and a new Human Rights Watch report details widespread, systematic torture by the Assad regime.

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Direct intervention is quickly appearing to be the only feasible means for halting gross human rights violations, stabilizing the conflict, and ensuring a sustainable transition.

The Geneva proposal, which was agreed upon by the United States, Russia, China, the Arab League, the European Union, and others, makes calls for a state of equilibrium and transition without providing a definitive road map to such a state. This crippling ambiguity may be an inevitable result of Russia’s support for, and Western nations’ opposition of, the Assad regime. Given those differences, however, it is difficult to imagine how such an ambiguity can be corrected.

Regrettably, the scale of the atrocities in Syria to date, the lack of buy-in from key opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army, and the vagaries of this last-ditch proposal make any prospect for peaceful co-existence between Assad and Syria’s population remote.

Poignantly, the Assad regime has reportedly engaged in war crimes for which it must eventually be held to account, and stands to lose the political and economic hegemony that underlies its existence. The opposition, in turn, foresees a future under Assad in which it would be subjected to even more repressive and humiliating strictures.  

In short, both sides of the Syrian conflict appear to be nearing, if they have not already crossed, a point of no return into a zero-sum fight for their very survival. In such a climate, the Geneva agreement offers no reasonable means for setting the conditions necessary to a peaceful settlement, and any means short of intervention seem increasingly unlikely to do so.

To be certain, America cannot act as a global policeman that deploys troops to every crisis-ridden situation. An ill-defined principle of intervention could stretch our forces and resources too thin to be effective while still responsibly honoring our core national security priorities. But whatever principle is most appropriate, it seems clear that the increasingly common atrocities in Syria would be well beyond its threshold for tolerance.

What would tactically constitute the most effective way to intervene is a question for military experts. In the face of negligible commitments to human dignity by China and Russia, their ability to block UN Security Council action, and the likelihood that Russia is actually aiding the Syrian regime, it is arguable that a smaller group of nations will have to find a way to stop further destabilization.

Nonetheless, there are significant reasons to hesitate when considering intervention in Syria. No doubt, the specter of Iraq’s civil conflict, the rise of a potentially intolerant and abusive strain of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the infighting in Libya must haunt the thoughts of those responsible for such a decision. There are counterpoints to these legitimate concerns, however.


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