Arming the Opposition is the Wrong Way to Unseat Syria’s Assad
The Bloomberg View
6 February 2012
The veto by Russia and China of a United Nations resolution urging a political transition in Syria and an end to the bloodshed there was, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly put it, “a travesty.” The challenge now is to stop travesty from turning into tragedy.
That temptation to arm the opposition, however, should be resisted. Syria is not Libya. High on the list of differences: the fault lines in Syrian society are sectarian. If the Arab League, the U.S. or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were to arm the rebels, that could accelerate the downfall of Assad, but it would also ensure a much broader civil war. Syria’s Sunni majority might mark its victory by taking revenge on the minority Alawites and Christians who have largely stood with the regime. Those who armed them would bear some of the responsibility.
(…) Syria’s dictator has powerful allies. It’s why NATO and the U.S. have long ruled out direct Libya-style military intervention in Syria. It’s why Turkey has been reluctant, despite fervent prompting from the Syrian opposition, to create a buffer zone on its border with Syria. (…) The Syrian rebels, unlike in Libya, are widely dispersed and don’t control a geographic area, meaning that Western air support would be of little efficacy.
Complexity is no excuse for inaction. And the failure of the Security Council resolution doesn’t absolve its members of their “responsibility to protect” -- the principle, gaining traction within the UN, that the international community must respond collectively when a state wages war on its own population.
Short of military intervention, there are many things that can be done to apply that emerging consensus to Syria. We support the creation of a contact group that would coordinate pressure on the Syrian regime, and think that, as part of that process, the U.S. should designate (as it did in Libya) a formal liaison with Syrian opposition groups. We urge the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council to tighten sanctions on Syria at its meeting this month, and the U.S. Senate to speedily consider the Syria sanctions legislation now before it.
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