A Third Way to End the War in Syria Is (Still) Possible: Looking Back at May 2011
In May 2011 I wrote this piece warning about the dangers of pushing a giant civil or regional war in Syria:
Later today my piece on Crisis Group’s unfortunate turn to calling for US military intervention against Assad will come out – and another piece later this week will be published that more specifically poses the Third Way alternative.
A few excerpts from May 2011:
“As a result of this idea vacuum, the Neo-LiberalCon tsunami grows by the day, publicly eschewing armed, Libyan-style intervention (although, given past statements, it is likely the neo-con wing privately hopes for this), and instead posits a policy by powerful external actors that would accelerate Syria’s internal contradictions and pressures to the breaking point.
“One essential problem with this formulation is that the result, especially for the people of Syria, will likely be even worse than the kind of civil war that obtains to this day in Libya. As one Syrian activist who crossed into Lebanon casually told a Western reporter earlier this month, he could contemplate the need for sacrificing the lives of 2-3 million Syrians for freedom…
“But forcing an immediate, radical leap to full democracy would likely be too much for either the regime or many Syrians to reasonably swallow without collapsing the whole process (at which point one must again consider the moral and strategic dangers of the “accelerated collapse” policy).
“What’s more, if the West wants to demand, say, a date for presidential, as opposed to merely parliamentary, elections — thus directly challenging the Assad rule now rather than helping to guide an indigenous democratic process to eventually deal with the issue — one needs to look around the region and think very hard whether we are going to be consistent and demand exactly the same thing, now, in Bahrain for example (where there is a nominally elected parliament but the monarchy rules) much less in Saudi Arabia, Jordan etc.
“Either way, at this point — even given the increasingly wanton brutality of the regime — it still seems reasonable to assert that a critical mass of Syrians themselves, within the country, would prefer a concrete plan and commitment — backed by patient but strong set of external actors — for a gradual transition towards a range of meaningful democratic reforms (especially in concert with the other supporting measures), rather than the alternative track we are likely going down: tens of thousands, perhaps more, dead and many more lives ruined for a prolonged period of time as in Iraq…
“Without putting positive incentives out there, however, such an effort is emaciated from the start and unlikely to succeed in the Syrian context (where the army appears to have greater loyalty to the Assad rule), or to have much of an effect on the regime’s calculations.
“With a concrete set of “carrots,” the wedges we know exist within the regime and within Syria’s elites would be greatly exacerbated in the event of a rejection, empowering soft-liners against hardliners and likely strengthening the former’s ability to gain the upper hand in mitigating the effects of any eventual collapse, should it come to pass.
“Make the Assads and any of their allies that are left within the country and outside (including key actors like Hezbollah and Hamas) seem obviously unreasonable and you will have gone a long way towards saving lives and, hopefully, making the path towards freedom for all Syrians an achievable and liveable reality…”