In 2008, I was living and studying in the Syrian capital, Damascus. One evening, late during my stay, I was invited to dinner at a Syrian friend’s house. Afterwards, as we reclined on his balcony overlooking the city, our talk moved to the political future of his country. Then, unexpectedly and in words I recall with undiluted clarity, he said: “If ever there is unrest against the government, Syria will end up like Iraq.” The words, even on a balmy, late spring night, chilled the air.
Today, with Syria descending with every passing day into a deeper, more protracted state of conflict; his words have the increasing weight of undeniable truth.
Seemingly each week comes news from Syria of greater, bloodier and far more brutal crimes committed by barbarous security forces unleashed by the desperate regime of Bashar al-Assad. This week has been that of the terrible massacre in Houla, in which over 100 people were slaughtered by regime forces. Not even the children were spared, many of their bodies bearing terrible injuries.
With this massacre came the usual diplomatic repercussions and inevitable political impasse, with Russia stymieing concerted efforts to increase sanctions on Syria. In the end, the conflict carries on, unabated, unchecked and out of control; with many observers at a loss over how to bring it to a swift close.
In Europe and America, there are increasing calls for action against the Assad regime, even for armed action. However, the U.S. and other concerned nations should carefully consider such an option and, if possible, avoid it entirely.
Indeed, any action of an armed nature risks further escalating the conflict and totally destabilizing Syria. Examples of this include the setting up of safe zones, arming the opposition, no-fly zones, and actively working for the downfall of the regime. Whilst, on paper, these actions appear as attractive options to minimize the bloodshed and end the conflict, they will actually only protract it.
In fact, such measures will make the eventual denouement in Syria bloodier, less predictable and far more destabilizing. They will ensure that Syria is awash with weapons, split along certain territorial lines and devoid of any residual governmental structures to help rebuild Syria for the long-term future.
Today, the unrest in Syria is not a unified picture, but a myriad of regions, parties, people, and interests all colliding together when faced with a vile regime’s brutal military actions. This is a complex and highly sensitive country, whose current situation is incredibly delicate; armed foreign intervention or foreign intervention by means of weapons or monetary support might not be the best route to achieving a peaceful and stable Syria.
It is understandable emotions run high when confronted with the truly terrible images of the past few days, weeks, months and year. It also remains truly shocking, the lengths at which the regime will go to silence, torture, maim and imprison its many, largely peaceful, opponents.
In this vein, it is essential that, in the haste to help Syria rid itself of the scourge that is Assad, the international community does not remove one problem, only to replace it with a plethora of others. Indeed, if it seeks to ensure that my friend’s awful vision of a bloody, war-torn Syria, remains unrealized, then all of its concerted efforts must go into avoiding armed action or support thereof at all costs. The ultimate price of a failure to do this would be the total collapse of Syria, to the great detriment of the Syrian people.