Marc Lynch has written an important piece on the Syrian conflict, in which he opposes the arming of the so called Free Syrian Army. Decrying what he terms as a bandwagon for arming the fighters, Lynch raises some pertinent questions on the usefulness of such undertaking. While I do understand the reservations against the action, I find myself joining this “bandwagon,” and arguing for the empowerment of the opposition movement through military and logistical means.
Granted the leadership and anatomy of such movement is still unclear, it is incumbent upon the international community to engage the opposition in an attempt to identify some viable leadership. Similarly, fears of reprisal by the regime, as Marc Lynch contends, are moot at this point as the Assad killing squads have already escalated their onslaught on civilians. Faced with the current state of affairs, it is immoral to sit idly by while hundreds of innocent Syrians are massacred especially as all avenues for diplomacy and tough sanctions have yielded no results.
Over the last couple of months, the intensity of the carnage has increased and there is no doubt that the Assad regime is now indiscriminately shelling civilian neighborhoods. In his final note from Syria, US ambassador Robert Ford provided satellite images that confirm the presence of mortars and artillery in residential neighborhoods. These are crimes against humanity that have been committed with impunity and little regard for international norms. In the absence of a clear plan to stop the bloodshed and to topple Assad, the international community has no options but to take concrete steps to provide material support for the opposition in Syria.
Even the Arab protocol that called for a Syrian army withdrawal from civilian neighborhood, and a complete cessation of the onslaught was met with the regime’s defiant refusal. But we cannot reply on the Arab League and its corrupt membership of dictatorial states to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people (despite the strong criticism from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia). In an ideal world in which international norms prevail, the massacre of Syrian civilians will be subject to the international norm of responsibility to protect. Under this principle, the international community has a duty to intervene to put an end to state-sponsored mass atrocities against their own people. These include war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
While I tentatively support the arming of the FSA, this can only be of last resort and after we identify its leadership if that exists. It may be an act of desperation, but at this point it is the only option the international community has. The intervention in Libya worked because we could early on identify a somewhat coherent leadership within the Transitional National Council. We may never be able to do so in the case of Syria, but supporting those communities that are most directly under threat from the Syrian state is paramount.
To that end, I find myself in support of the latest Senate bipartisan plan to provide support for the opposition in Syria. The world can no longer watch while a minority regime is engaged in a systematic annihilation of its own people. These actions are not without precedent. In 1999, The United States exerted pressure and facilitated an active plan by NATO to help protect the Kosovars against Serbian ethnic cleansing. In 2011, NATO came to the rescue of the Libyan rebels under regime’s threat of reprisal. In Syria, 6000 people have been killed so far, and many more will join them if there is not a decisive plan that includes building a wider consensus in the region and international about the imperative of the responsibility to protect the Syrian people.