Our Aimless Policy in Syria

Kobani, Syria. From Toronto Star/Getty Images.

Western Impotence in Syria

Last night, while I lay asleep in a hotel room in Beirut, American, British, and French armed forces conducted three strikes against Syrian chemical weapons sites less than 100 miles away from me. It was a necessary response to the almost-certain action of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who used chemical weapons against his own people to clear a rebel-held stronghold near the capital of Damascus. But it formed no part of a larger strategy. It was an action required by the dry protocols of international law, and aside from Trump’s pointless tweets, it was performed with the dry efficiency of a lawyer’s brief. Assuming Russia and Iran refrain from responding, it will act as a minor deterrent to chemical weapons and will otherwise be forgotten. And Assad will go on killing his own people, with the tacit support of Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

Potential Blueprint for Humanitarian Intervention in Syria

At a recent conference in Turkey to discuss the path forward in Syria, Putin said, “Nobody is taking any responsibility other than Turkey, Iran and Russia. There is only a limited humanitarian aid by the UN, but that’s not enough.” This is, in a way, utterly laughable, since the three countries have highly Machiavellian interests in the conflict and have frequently blocked humanitarian missions by the UN and other actors. But his larger point, that those three countries are the only ones who have invested in the conflict, is true. Perhaps if they had not invested, there would be no need for the West to intervene; that is useless speculation now. Western nations must step up to their responsibility to protect Syrian civilians and their own interests. I propose three guidelines for this intervention:

1. Deploy a Substantial Multilateral Peacekeeping Force and Include Assad Allies

The recent government takeover of Eastern Ghouta was only the latest violation of a ceasefire agreement in pursuit of complete control of the country. Assad’s forces now control the majority of the country, but not all — he will not cease fighting until rebels are entirely subdued. An international peacekeeping force, of the type deployed in former Yugoslavia during the 90’s, needs to be placed in the country to prevent this scorched-earth campaign. Scholars at the RAND Corporation point out that such a situation is already forming organically — American-backed Kurdish forces in the north (now under attack from Turkey), Iranian-backed forces in the south, and so on. But the lack of genuine Western diplomatic engagement on the issue has left everyone uncertain about Western aims and commitment to the country.

2. Sponsor Peace Talks Until a Power-Sharing Agreement is Reached

Major actors in Syria, both armed and unarmed, should be brought to a negotiating table to hammer out a working coalition for governing the country. And the West should place no conditions on the outcome except that, if Assad remains in power, there be explicit mechanisms for power-sharing in both the central government and regional power centers.

3. Participate in Multilateral, Decentralized Reconstruction Efforts

Russia, Iran and Turkey have already started planning for the reconstruction of Syria following the war. I believe Western nations, including the United States, Germany, France, and the UK, should partner with those nations in providing help to the Syrian central government to rebuild infrastructure, housing, and economy. However, the West should also push for more decentralized reconstruction efforts, providing support to Kurdish, Sunni, Shia, Christian, and other groups to rebuild locally. Local authority to accept this help should be a central requirement of the governmental structure designed in peace talks, whether or not Assad stays in power.

Not a Perfect Plan

This is not a perfect plan — it would need improvement from many stakeholders. But I think the most difficult part of the plan is the deployment of an international peacekeeping force. There are multiple objections to such an idea.

Closing

In writing this analysis, I do not have access to the intelligence available to governments across the world. I do not have personal relationships with any of the actors involved in the conflict. I have only lived through 28 years of history (and have only been reading the news for five of those years). My limitations are many. But I have been convinced that an international, multilateral peacekeeping force is needed in Syria for years. Given the West’s incomprehensible lack of overall strategy in Syria, I had to write something. I welcome criticisms, comments, and suggestions.

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Abe Collier

Abe Collier

“I do not understand one thing in this world. Not one.” — Marilynne Robinson, ‘Gilead’