Kofi Annan’s plan for a diplomatic end for the Syrian violence, terms which would have Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian forces withdraw troops from battle zones and cease the killing that has marred the country for more than a year, is crumbling as the death toll ratcheted up over the past few days.
Damascus had agreed to a Security Council-backed Tuesday deadline to withdraw troops from and stop using heavy weapons against Syrian towns, to be followed by a full ceasefire by the army and rebels on Thursday morning.
Annan still holds a bit of hope that the cessation of violence can stop, but Monday alone saw 160 Syrian martyrs, one of the highest death tolls in months of fighting, and violence in cities in all regions of the country. In the past 8 days alone the Syrian National Council has the death toll at 1,000 Syrians while the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria has a more conservative estimate of over 600. EA Worldview reports that Tuesday’s death toll has reached 101. Violence has also sprung up along the Syria-Lebanon, and Syria-Turkey borders, where many refugees are fleeing from state violence. This border violence is sure to become a powder keg for potential crises as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has already denounced the Syrian forces firing over the border into Turkey, wounding four Syrian refugees and two Turkish refugee camp staff workers. The situation in Lebanon is also on knife’s edge as Hezbollah’s support within Lebanon has been hurt and renounced by Sunnis in Syria because of its previous support of Assad during the uprising.
It is inconceivable that any talks will bring the two sides close to a ceasefire. It is clear that the government forces and shabiha raids have not stopped one bit. This conclusion is not a very surprising event, as Assad has pulled this bluff before. Many opposition leaders have already rejected the U.N. plan as the bloodletting has not abated one bit, and Assad still refrains that his forces are battling terrorist groups bent on destabilizing the country. Once the deadline passes on Thursday and the provisions have not been met, what is left on the table for diplomacy?
Looking ahead, it is extremely unclear as to what the international community will decide on Syria. The commitment of Russian and Chinese governments to stop the violence does not put them directly behind the opposition. In a meeting with the Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, wants equal international pressure on the opposition to lay down their weapons. While they may be for sanctions or strongly worded decrees, I would not bet the house on Chinese or Russian support of any kind of U.N. led peace keeping ground forces. The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria have called for the SNC/FSA fighters to comply with the six points of the U.N. plan, which would bring their plight in to a clearer view while the Syrian government forces continue with their horrific non-compliance. Perhaps this is one way in which international sentiment will crystallize in the coming days.
If the deadline passes and Assad continues to kill his own citizens in ever greater numbers there will surely be an even greater groundswell of Syrian hawks in the U.S.; whether it be to aid the opposition through arms, air strikes, or an international ground force. Only the last option would have any real means of the success the hawks desire. Arming the Free Syrian Army would ensure much more bloodshed on both sides, prolonging the civil war, and entrenching each side’s positions. Arms in such instability could even produce even more sectarian violence. Aiding escalation would invariably pin the bloodshed on the intervening. Air strikes have all but been proven ineffective, as it did little to hurt Gaddhafi’s forces in Libya. Al-Assad’s army is even bigger and more conventional than Gaddhafi’s army. The last option, using ground troops to force a regime change, would most likely devolve the region into many more unintended consequences than even the Libyan campaign had (destabilizing its neighbors and causing a civil war in Mali). And while the most likely for regime change, would also be the most likely to end with a reconciliation worse than we started with.
The West has a moral obligation to support the Syrian opposition in the face of mass murders of the men, women, and children of Syria, but that support has to be checked by rational plans for a more stable outcome lest we have another Libya or Iraq on our hands. We know that the U.S. government’s goal is to dethrone Assad and clip off another Iranian satellite, but using our own military forces would defeat any gains of such an occurrence. The risks are too high and this is a test to see whether or not America can resist from inserting its military influence in any and every global conflict. While a Syria less in the hands of Iran is in America’s interest, it may not be in the best interest of the region. A Sunni majoritarian ruled Syria would further polarize the Saudi Arabia Sunni satellites and Iran and its Shi’a client states. We can, however, use our efforts to secure borders and aid countries like Turkey and Lebanon with the huge influx of predicted refugees. This type of non-intervening goodwill may pay dividends with the sentiment of many Middle Easterners.