Syria Caught in the Middle

A Palestinian girl in Gaza attends a demonstration against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad and his regime

There is much talk about Syria becoming the stage for a new great-power proxy war. But as nations focus on how they can best assert themselves and secure their interests on the Syrian battlefield, unconscionable numbers of Syrian men, women, and children are living in terror. Imagine how it must feel to live under siege by your own government; and imagine how it must feel to know that the international community’s only interest in your plight is a selfish desire to accumulate power and secure their self-interest. No one cares enough to scan the international repertoire to find a tool to stop the killing. Rather, they have displayed countless tools for asserting themselves and securing their interests.

While the international community claims that Security Council vetoes by Russia and China have thwarted diplomatic plans for Assad’s ouster, the vetoes have actually created a new opportunity to form a Friends of Syria coalition. While the vetoes have galvanized the protesters as well as the regime, the United Nations mire does not make international action obsolete. Rather, it makes it more necessary than ever.

[inset_left]Does ending the massacre fall within the realm of anyone’s interests?[/inset_left]Indeed, there is no doubt that the dual vetoes emboldened Assad and escalated the conflict. The Security Council stalemate essentially delivered a message to both Assad and to the Syrian people. To Assad, it said, “continue as you wish. We will do nothing to interfere.” To the Syrian people, it said, “the international community has abandoned you, and you will have to figure this out yourself.” With able international actors standing by idly, the crisis in Syria does not have a foreseeable end. While national interests will shape the decisions of countries like the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, there are human beings dying everyday on the ground. Does ending the massacre fall within the realm of anyone’s interests?

An international stalemate amid worsening violence makes for another crisis in the short-term, as the pursuit of long-term strategic interests obscures the humanitarian devastation occurring daily in Syria. Although it seems like all diplomatic routes towards ending the conflict have been exhausted, perhaps this means it is time to create a new diplomatic option.

[inset_left]We hope that the Friends of Syria will unite around a common goal of ensuring the freedom, dignity, and livelihood that every Syrian deserves, both immediately and over the long-term.[/inset_left]Some countries, in line with the trend towards exploiting Syria’s devastation in the name of winning an invisible proxy war, have entertained the idea of arming the Free Syria Army. Of course, the opposition is simply outmatched in terms of power compared to regime’s forces, and if the conflict can only be resolved by military means, then arming the FSA could also be altruistic. But, the military track is not the only option, and since it could also hold dangerous consequences for post-Assad Syria, it must be accompanied by reinvigorated diplomatic efforts.

A coalition of the Friends of Syria will have its inaugural meeting in Tunisia on February 24. At this international conference, members of the Syrian opposition as well as diplomats and activists from across the world will discuss options for resolving the conflict in Syria. Although the Arab League plan failed to exit the Security Council, now nations and non-state actors can convene to exchange ideas and craft possible transition scenarios. Here, we hope that the interests of the Syrian people will not be obscured by national interests or by proxy power battles. Rather, we hope to keep in mind the horror under which Syrians are living everyday, and the urgency with which the crises must be mended. There are both long and short-term consequences to what happens in Syria, consequences which will be felt well beyond Syria’s sovereign borders. We hope that the Friends of Syria will unite around a common goal of ensuring the freedom, dignity, and livelihood that every Syrian deserves, both immediately and over the long-term.

The international community must stop ignoring the reality in Syria. At the present moment, thousands of Syrians have been murdered by their government, and tens of thousands have been displaced. The Assad regime is directly responsible for the humanitarian atrocities unleashed on its people. Assad must go, and the killing must stop.

First, the Friends of Syria could enact an arms embargo against the Assad regime in order to weaken Assad’s brutal assault. Then, a joint force of peacekeepers (perhaps a combination of Arab League and United Nations forces) must enforce a ceasefire in designated safe zones, and they must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to the Syrian people.

The process of transition from absolute chaos and devastation under Assad to a future built from the aspirations of Syrian civilians will be long and arduous. When Assad goes, so will the institutions of his corrupt regime. The Syrian people will have to rebuild their country from scratch in the hopes of building a better future for their children. The least the international community could do is to ask the Syrian people how it can help, and to consider the implications for these Syrian civilians before the desire to win a proxy war.

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