8 Jun 2012

Should the west attack Syria?

Syria blogger Sakhr Al-Makhadhi considers the options as the UN struggles to find a credible plan for ending the violence.

Another week, another massacre. If the murder of an estimated 49 children in Houla weeks ago wasn’t enough to provoke international outrage, then the reported killing of 100 people near Hama this week certainly was.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the latest killings “unconscionable,” while David Cameron said the massacre was “brutal and sickening”. Tough words. But will the world ever go beyond condemnation? Some Syrians certainly hope so.

In the early days of this revolution, the divide was between pro- and anti-Assadists. Those who believed his promises of reform, and feared all-out anarchy versus Syrians who wanted Assad gone at all costs.

Over the past year, as the army has swept from town to town, the promises of reform have been crushed by the regime’s tanks, leaving the president with just a rump of supporters.

Now the great Syrian divide is over calls for foreign intervention.

The ceasefire pushed by UN Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has been the greatest hope for the non-interventionists, a last gasp for some kind of diplomatic solution.

As the 10 April ceasefire deadline approached, you would have been hard pressed to find a Syrian who believed the guns would fall silent. But overnight, large parts of Syria unexpectedly became peaceful. The death toll fell to zero and hopes were high. Suddenly, the non-violent activists – the ones who started this uprising – were back in control. With the Free Syrian Army’s fighters apparently out of a job, the peaceful activists reclaimed their spot as leaders of the revolution.

It didn’t take long for the killing to start again – although the death toll, post-ceasefire, has been consistently lower than before the plan came into effect. The interventionists said it was naive to think the regime would ever sincerely commit to pulling its troops back when it had already broken so many promises.

The divide

Interventionists fall into two broad categories: the Nato-ists and the “arm the rebels” crowd. Many of those who want US jets to bomb Damascus have given up on the Free Syrian Army’s ability to overthrow the regime anytime soon. They want a Libya-style mission to neuter the army and halt the regime’s massacres. The trouble is, the international community has struggled to get even the weakest resolution through the Security Council. Russia has made it clear it will not allow a repeat of Libya.

The “arm the rebels” group is a lot more optimistic about the potential of the Free Syrian Army. They believe – despite all the signs – that the collapse of the army is about to reach the tipping point, and with just a bit more firepower (in the form of guns sent from abroad), the Free Syrian Army could persuade thousands more soldiers to defect.

For outsiders, it seems like an easy option too: regime change on the cheap. Send a few guns, RPGs and walkie-talkies into Syria, and you do not have to worry about troublesome UN resolutions. And it allows Syrians to retain “ownership” of their revolution.

Two months of the non-ceasefire has done the Annan plan – and the non-interventionists’ cause – no end of harm. Those who say Nato jets or weapons for the FSA are the only option are in the ascendent. But the former UN secretary general has a trick up his sleeve: an Annan Plan B.

Mr Annan urged the Security Council on Thursday to make clear that there will be “consequences” if his peace plan is not fully implemented, which may include nonmilitary sanctions against Syria.

Kofi Annan’s Plan A tried to get a deal between the warring factions inside Syria. Plan B involves doing the same – but on the world stage. The non-interventionists will be hoping this idea succeeds where the last one failed.