No military solution to Syria

No military solution to Syria

The Syrian civil war has entered its third year and there is still no end in sight to the increasingly bloody conflict. France and Britain’s push to arm the opposition, a proposition that is also said to be gaining speed in Washington, reflects the growing frustration over the stalemate. The desire is to level the playing field, which to date has favored the regime.

To do so, the heavy weaponry being supplied by Russia to regime forces, as well as the support the Assad regime is getting from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, will have to be counter-balanced with equal effectiveness. This means significant amounts of sophisticated weaponry being dispatched to Syria.

It also means boots on the ground to coordinate the distribution and provide the necessary training. It is obvious that neither Moscow nor Tehran will just sit and watch as this goes on, after having propped up the Assad regime this far. Despite Paris and London’s push, the majority of their EU and NATO partners consider this to be no different that pouring petrol on a raging fire, unless the West wants a proxy war with Russia and Iran.

But the problem is not just a military one for Syrians. Opposition groups operating under the umbrella of the so-called “National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution” are meeting in Istanbul to try to establish a government for parts of Syria liberated from Assad. Success, however, is not guaranteed since divisions among these groups continue to linger.

These divisions also point to problems down the road when Assad finally absents himself, either by force or as a result of a negotiated settlement. Writing in the Lebanese English language daily Star, David Ignatius shows in his March 18 column that the road ahead is also uncertain.

“Let’s be honest: When Assad is gone and Syria is finally rebuilding its state, it will need massive foreign economic and military assistance – probably including peacekeeping troops from the Arab League or even a NATO country such as Turkey. The alternative is a power vacuum in which terrorists will take root in the heart of the Middle East.”

How a West that failed to act on Syria until now is expected to act in a unified manner after Assad goes, in order to provide “massive foreign economic and military assistance,” is not clear.

Ignatius also refers only to the Western part of the equation, which includes the Arab League, but makes no mention of what role Russia and Iran will play in Syria’s future. A stable future for Syria is unlikely unless these countries also have some say in it.

Meanwhile, there are indications that the keenness to arm the Syria opposition may also have something to do with the fact that Britain, France and the U.S. are concerned with gains by Islamists in Syria. The suggestion is that these countries are not just trying to topple Assad but are also trying to shore up what they believe to be forces among the Syrian opposition that will have to fight the Islamists after Assad.

The L.A. Times has reported that the CIA is monitoring Islamists in Syria for possible future drone strikes against them. If all of this is true, Syria will become the new battleground for Jihadist groups, after Afghanistan and Iraq, who will try to ensure that a largely secular and pro-Western Syria never emerges.

We could therefore be facing many years of instability in the region in the absence of a political settlement to the Syria crisis as different powers push their own agendas. It is time, therefore, to acknowledge – unsavory as the idea may be for some – that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis that not only leaves the country intact and in peace, but also contributes to regional stability.