The cost of inaction in Syria will be greater
It has been almost a year since the Syrian people began their uprising, following the arrest of over a dozen children for painting anti-regime graffiti on the walls of a local school in Daraa.
It wasn’t the first time the Syrian regime’s forces had mistreated its citizens, on the contrary, the regime had been rough on its citizens, especially the Sunni Arab population, for decades. What was different this time, what sparked the year-long uprising, was the wave of revolutions, the Great Arab Awakening, which mesmerized the Syrian people.
On Monday, Senator John McCain, by calling for a joint coalition of countries, led by the U.S., to intervene in Syria in order to help create safe havens, renewed the debate on the pros and cons of such a move into Syria. Many experts argue that the spread of retribution and minority killings would be increased by the use of international force. There is indeed a minority problem in Syria that needs to be recognized and cannot be simply wished away. Whether there is an intervention or not, the post-Assad Syria will have to deal with this problem. Turkey, which has accomplished more than Syria has in the last century in terms of democratic progress, is also still dealing with its own Kurdish minority problems socially, politically, and militarily, of which the latter has cost about 40 thousand lives in the last three decades.
One thing is for sure: The longer al-Assad and his criminal clan stay in power, the deeper the sectarianism goes, consequently increasing the chance of a civil war. That is why the rapid removal of the al-Assad regime should be the ultimate goal, if one of the main concerns is to prevent a civil war.
On the other hand, it is not the international community’s mission to end the sectarian problem in Syria, because that would probably require a nation-building effort, and we have all witnessed how successful the Western allies have been at doing that in the last decade. It will be the Syrians who will have to deal with this problem head on.
Inaction on the part of the West would also likely cause some parts of the Syrian opposition to be further militarized by the various Islamic jihadist groups. More radicalized Sunni Arabs, who are expected to grab power after the Assad regime falls, are likely to harbor more anger toward minorities. The more disenchanted the Syrian opposition becomes with the West, as Western “help” drags on, the more likely it is to be open to the idea of collaborating with al-Qaeda, since al-Qaeda seems to be offering them help with hastening al-Assad’s downfall, in their time of need.
While the preparations for an intervention in Syria are in the making, a second track designed to unify the opposition, convincing them to reassure the minorities by guaranteeing their rights in the post-Assad period, also ought to be advanced.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Syria is currently a totalitarian police state in which all the top jobs, including intelligence, security, defense and diplomacy go to Alawites. Seeing their survival as tied to the regime, members of this sect have led the way, going out to kill or order to kill. However, when these security forces are in Druze, Ismaili or Kurdish areas, they tend to avoid killing, in order that the coalition of the minorities, one of the main pillars supporting the regime, can remain in existence.
The force of a credible threat would also very likely help to shift dynamics on the ground in Syria, by encouraging the many to join the opposition who have thus far stayed away. During my 12 hours under arrest in Syria at the end of January, I met two members of the security forces who were willing to use derogatory language about al-Assad and his loyal thugs, the Shabihas, when no one was listening. If a credible threat is brought to bear against the al-Assad regime, it would also likely accelerate defections to the opposition at an unpredictable pace.
The U.S., the West in general, and finally Turkey have to come to realize that in order to have leverage in the post-Assad period, they have to help now. By not intervening, the West is losing the goodwill of the Syrian people, who have been brutalized for almost a year now.