Syria : The Case Against Military Intervention

By Morgan Griffith-David

In a perfect world, Bashar al-Assad, murderous President of Syria, would not be slaughtering his own citizens.

In a perfect world, hundreds of innocents in Houla, al-Qubeir, and dozens of other towns not worthy of Western media, would not have been massacred.

In a perfect world, the Avengers would swoop into Damascus. The Hulk would bring down Syria’s air force, Iron Man would keep the loyalist Shabiha militia at bay, while Captain America would deal with al-Assad.

This is not a perfect world. I am arguing that Britain, America, and the ‘West’ should not intervene militarily in Syria. This is not a case of R2P. This would not improve the situation. This is not Libya.

Some appeal to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P) to justify an international intervention in Syria. R2P tries to demonstrate when the international community has a Responsibility to Protect the citizens of another state, legitimating an intervention in a sovereign state’s internal affairs. There are six criteria :-

  1. Just Cause
  2. Right Intention
  3. Final Resort
  4. Legitimate Authority
  5. Proportional Means
  6. Reasonable Prospect

It may well be that most of these criteria can be met, perhaps even more so than in Iraq in ’91, East Timor and Kosovo in ’99 or Libya in 2011. But I do not believe that a military intervention in Syria would have a Reasonable Prospect of success.

Many people seem to be suffering under the illusion that intervening in Syria would be the same as Libya. Apart from both being Arab countries, there is almost no similarity.

Firstly, a no-fly zone would not work. This intervention ‘on the cheap‘ is easier for intervening countries to manage in terms of finances and soldiers’ lives lost. But it isn’t really an option in Syria. This means that only a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ campaign would be possible – something that no country really wants to consider.

Libya is highly unpopulated – the population is a third the size of the Syria’s, but they live in a country nine times larger. “Practically, this meant that there were vast swathes of land into which Libyans could retreat, organise themselves and in which foreign countries could drop weapons and deploy military trainers to help the ‘rebels’. This is just not the case in Syria where there are, thus far, no large areas of the country remotely under ‘rebel’ control”. Areas such as Idlib and Aleppo would be best for a no-fly zone to be errected around but the rebel presence there is too weak to consolidate. There’s no stronghold like Benghazi for the rebels to gather in.

Not that the rebels would gather. The Libyan opposition was mostly unified under the National Transitional Council. The Free Syria Army is not an army but at least “20 rebel groups” who “all share a deep hatred” of Assad… but there “their unity stops”.

Rebel coordination rarely extends beyond neighboring towns and villages and never to the provincial or national level. Many rebels don’t even know the commanders in towns two hours away.

A large reason for the lack of unity is the fact that Syria is a hodgepodge of different ethnic/religious groups. It is around 75% Sunni (including Kurds), 10% Christian and the rest are mainly Shi’a, Druze, Isma’ili…and Alawi. The Alawiites are one of the smallest groups, yet they dominate Syria’s police, army and government, including the al-Assad family. When Syria was under French mandate, France recruited heavily among minority communities, and Alawite dominance of Syrian public life has continued.

I haven’t yet come across one spark of national feeling: it is all sects and hatreds and religions.
Freya  Stark, British Diplomat, of the French Mandate

To back a Sunni-led revolution would be to directly trigger a sectarian war. Increasingly, al-Assad’s Alawites and others, such as the Christian community, defend the status quo out of fear.

This is one similarity to Libya. Successful revolutions lead to reprisals. We may have presented a massacre in Benghazi but instead Tawergha was cleansed of sub-Saharan Africans. A rebel victory in Syria means the slaughter of Alawites, Christians and others.

A no-fly zone is not possible. The revolution is fractured. Their victory would only trigger more sectarian violence. To intervene and actively encourage this would be irresponsible for Western powers.

This does not mean we should do nothing. We may start to train the rebels, unify them, provide arms and funding. We can apply pressure on al-Assad to step-aside – Russia’s support would be useful for this. We can then try to offer Sunnis a role in public life, but still protect the Alawite minority from slaughter.

But we must be highly cautious about upsetting the status quo in Syria. Military intervention may simply be the trigger for even worse violence then we see today.

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2 thoughts on “Syria : The Case Against Military Intervention

  1. I would like to thank Morgan Griffith-David for this precious article, with a deep, neuter and intelligent analysis.

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