Syria: Who Will Throw the First Stone?

By Fadi Assaf.

Diplomatic, economic and media pressures are mounting on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, while the Annan plan is in jeopardy, violence is growing, and the opposition is struggling to reach the required threshold of credibility for its alternative project to be admissible. Although complicated to organize on the operational level, military intervention is no longer taboo and is now part of psychological warfare against Assad. But it clearly means a radicalization of the international position vis-à-vis Syria, even though at this stage, the position of Russia and China still prevents a war to overthrow the Syrian regime.

After diplomats and political leaders, and after several countries took measures against Syria individually, collectively or in consultation, the military are now asked to join the pressure. These technicians provide additional credit to political and diplomatic warnings, but, despite the indisputable weight of the military-industrial complex, they do not commit their own countries into a war. Statements of commanders of the major NATO countries, the United States in particular, on the ability of their armies to wage war against Syria are surprising, since they bring undisputed evidence: if international obstacles are lifted, if regional supports and relays are found, if governments decide military action, the armies will intervene. This is obviously a double evidence, because they have ample means, and most importantly, the armies comply in democracies… Uncertainties remain elsewhere.

It is far from desirable to treat a dictatorship considerably and preserve the status quo, for fear of uncertainties related to the military action. It is rather vital to conduct a comprehensive and objective assessment of current and future risks. Outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy walked straight into war in Libya, a war whose military technicians take pride in their success at an optimal cost. But can politicians feel the same pride given the situation in Libya ever since, and given the catastrophic outcome of the French initiative? The same question applies to the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. The overwhelming military and technological superiority of an international power is undoubtedly crucial to forcibly bring about desired change. But what about the crisis and post-war management? What about collateral damage?

If the decision to induce a change of regime in Syria by all means, was taken as part of an international arrangement, if such a decision was justifiable on the human and strategic levels, and if military resources were also available, does this automatically imply a military adventure? Shouldn’t the disastrous precedents in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya incite countries to broaden their focus beyond mere military action? Instability and insecurity are arising in the region from sudden changes in the Arab-Muslim world in recent years, including changes brought about without direct military intervention (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen). Don’t these changes call for a general reassessment of the approach taken so far by international powers?

Shouldn’t efforts start by stabilizing the overall framework, such as anticipating the inevitable collateral damages in case of a foreign war against Syria, and provide for relief plans to be immediately implemented to avoid a destabilizing chaotic scenario similar to the Afghan, Iraqi and Libyan scenarios? It is a kind of package-deal that is needed to avoid a dangerous division of efforts that initially aim at improving an unacceptable situation and risk to seize up very quickly and be limited to a military operation. Which country or group of countries will volunteer today to be the spearhead of such a military adventure with such unpredictable implications? Volunteers are lacking, and no international power seems able to throw the first stone, or the first bomb, against Damascus. The Syrian regime must have realized this reality as well, and continues to act by excluding the risk of external military action from its calculations…

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