Now is the time to act. Now is the time to provide diplomatic legitimacy to the Syrian opposition council and military support to the Free Syrian Army. It is estimated that over 70,000 people have died in the Syrian Civil War, which has engulfed the country for almost two years and has caused more than one million people to flee their homes in terror. The conflict being perpetrated by Bashar Al-Assad on his own country defies the imagination and demands international response. American efforts so far have been lackluster, and the Obama administration has repeatedly refused calls by senior officials to arm the Syrian rebels. Instead the White House has committed to providing nonlethal aid that, according to The New York Times, could include “communications training and equipment.” More needs to be done. More has to be done if a semblance of a functioning state is to emerge from what has become one of the deadliest conflicts the region has seen in recent memory. And that’s saying a lot. The United States should provide military support in the form of a no-fly zone and weapons for properly vetted units within the Free Syrian Army for the following reasons:
First: Ending the violence. Our primary concern should be to end the violence in Syria. The quickest way to tip the balance of power and drive Bashar from Damascus and to the bargaining table is through American military muscle. Without this crucial ingredient, the conflict can continue indefinitely with Russian and Iranian support. American arms are needed to give the rebels the decisive edge they need over the Russian equipped forces of this totalitarian regime. The current stalemate is not a tenable situation, as U.N. officials recently reported to The New York Times. The response is strained by the one million plus refuges that have flooded into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Soon the number of refugees will eclipse the support that is available for them and an even worse humanitarian crisis will emerge. The violence must end, and American support is crucial to ensuring that it does.
Second: Considering the aftermath. The violence in Syria will eventually end, and a new regime will emerge from the ashes of Assad’s current government. If the United States wants a chance to shape the forces that will come to power, we must intervene now. The Economist reports, “About a fifth of the rebels—and some of the best organized—are jihadists.” Undoubtedly these groups are hostile to American and Western interests. Those who control the guns will control the peace, and if moderate voices within the Syrian opposition are continually marginalized they will have less leverage in determining the makeup of the newly established state. Critics argue that America has tried this strategy before in Afghanistan, where we armed the Taliban, and failed. These arguments have merit. It is impossible to ensure that no weapons will fall into the wrong hands, but the plan devised by Gen. Petraeus and Hillary Clinton provides a reasonable safeguard against such an occurrence. Regardless of this possibility the longer we wait to intervene the greater the risk we run of angering moderates within the Syrian Free Army who rightly expected Western assistance.
Third: Our own hypocrisy. Syrians have reasonably expected Western intervention after the responsive American military support in Libya. The crisis in Syria has reached a proportion that would have been impossible in Libya. Those under assault in Damascus and Aleppo are wondering why the West hasn’t come for them. Where is the no-fly zone that Western forces enforced over Libya, effectively silencing Gaddafi‘s air superiority? The death toll is simply astounding. Unfortunately we can’t be involved in every democratic revolution in the world, it’s just not feasible. However, we can help stop this slaughter. After a century of meddling in the Middle East it seems hypocritical not to.
With all the violence that occurs in the Middle East, it seems that we have become desensitized to the conflict occurring in Syria. In many cases we have become desensitized to conflict in general. The wars of the past 10 years have made death a daily feature in the papers and cable news stations but that should not make it acceptable. Look a little closer at Syria. Imagine that instead of Damascus it was Raleigh or New York that was under siege. This war must end and American support can help make that a reality.
Colin Scott is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Monday.