As the West remains idle, Syrians continue to suffer at large
The international community continues to tip-toe around the Syrian crisis, while almost two years into the bloody conflict, the death toll rapidly increases and thousands more refugees are forced to flee across the borders.
Syria may have much greater socio-political, sectarian and strategic connotations than Libya, but the ironies cannot be overlooked. Just when will the United States, the E.U. or the U.N. deem enough is enough?
60,000 deaths, 700,000 refugees and masses amounts of destruction and suffering later and yet the current conflict in Syria is intensifying and worsening by the day.
Failings of the West
The Western powers have greatly encouraged the Syrian revolution and the overthrow of Bashar Assad but have failed to take practical steps that would lead to the ultimate end-goal – the end of the regime.
The current predicament in Syria has echoes of the 1991 uprising in Iraq, which was encouraged and promoted by the US led coalition at the time, but as the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal sliced through Kurdish and Shiite ranks, killing thousands and sending hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees into desperate situations in the process, the West stood largely idle.
The images of bodies of over a hundred executed men, recovered from a river in Aleppo, is a disturbing summary of where Syria finds itself today or in the words of UN special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, the “unprecedented levels of horror” that Syria has reached.
Ironically, as the Syrian conflict rumbles on, Western powers have hailed the impact of the intervention, unity and coordination between NATO, EU, UN and regional African forces in Mali. Such was the deemed urgency that the intervention in Mali was relatively swift and without contention.
Such urgency is needed in Syria, if not for the sake of the rebels, then to alleviate the humanitarian crisis of millions of innocent civilians. It is the duty of all those who believe in democracy and human rights.
The regional and international divide over Syrian remains great. The Syrian opposition and the Western powers have long insisted that Assad’s days are numbered and any little legitimacy he had left has long evaporated. The current stalemate is owed to those who staunchly support Damascus – Iran, Iraq, China and in particular Russia.
Russia is the key denominator to finding an end to the Syrian struggle and the party that has already vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions.
The West, having recognised the newly formed Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, remain wary of direct military intervention, the setup of a humanitarian corridor or even the arming of the rebels.
The current vicious cycle in Syria is not about to break. There is no way back for Assad now. Syria will never be the same again and outgunned rebels will eventually topple Assad one way or another. The end game is clear, the only thing not clear is when and how many thousands more lives will be sacrificed and how much more suffering the population will endure in the process.
At the recent Munich Security Conference, US Vice-President Joe Biden reiterated that Assad “is no longer fit to lead the Syrian people and he must go.” The gulf between US and Russia is one of the reasons for the protracted nature of the struggle.
Russia has been insistent that a transitional plan or negotiations should not have the removal of Assad as a prerequisite. This negates the whole purpose and motive of the Syrian opposition. How Russia can continue to believe that Assad can be part of any future democratic framework or Syrian transition smacks of delusion.
In a symbolic step for the first time, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, held talks with leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Sheikh Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib. Al-Khatib’s remarks that he is prepared for dialogue with the Damascus regime, created furry among the Syrian opposition. Khatib later back-pedaled and insisted any talks would merely be on the proviso of a peaceful exit of Assad’s regime.
Either way, there is no doubt that the key to the toppling of Assad lies in building positive ties between Russia and the Syrian National Coalition.
As the Syrian conflict rages on, even Russian ranks are increasingly divided, with a stark reality that Moscow does not want to risk burning bridges with a future Syria, in spite of its rhetoric. Just recently, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev hit out at Assad’s lack of reach-out to the opposition and deemed his chances of staying in power as “shrinking day by day”.
A new Syria in a new Middle East
With the Syrian Kurds finally free from the chains of dictatorship and enjoying symbolic autonomy that they are unlikely to relinquish after decades of suffering, Alawites likely to regroup in their strongholds and Sunnis ascending to power, the new fragmented Syria will be a far cry from that of yesteryears.
With the new Syria and the Arab Spring, strategic and sectarian alliances of the Middle East are undertaking a drastic shift. Syrian Kurds will move closer to the Kurdistan Region, Turkey’s Kurdish policy both internally and externally will need a major rethink with the reality of Kurdish autonomy on its southern border, Sunnis in Iraq will naturally move closer to the new Damascus regime just as Baghdad will move increasingly closer to Tehran.
Then there are the ramifications for the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Israel. The shifts in the Middle East are unavoidable. The Western powers and regional forces most move quickly, to harness such inevitabilities in the most constructive way, or risk more turmoil and destruction in a future Syria and the new Middle East.
A continual policy of sticking to the side-lines in the current conflict will greatly encourage extremists in the Syrian struggle and risk the possibilities of war within a war, as dangerously witnessed with al-Qaeda backed elements fighting Kurdish forces in Kurdish populated areas, seemingly on a drive to escalate the Syrian war and pour fuel on Arab, Kurdish hostilities.