Seeking A Solution For Syria

posted on April 3, 2012 in Politics and Society

Last week, YPFP’s Middle East Discussion Group (MEDG) gathered to discuss four options for U.S. intervention in Syria: diplomacy, military intervention, economic actions, and wait-and-see. Even with the broadest of parameters, the group did not agree on one approach. There were some who made the argument that for both humanitarian concerns and U.S. national security interests, it would be prudent to take military action soon. Others, myself included, were apprehensive, referring to the increasingly worrying situation in Libya as well as its disparate, and sometimes ideological, opposition.

I formed my own outsider's view of Syrian society when I lived there in 2007.  One of the most striking things about Syria at the time was the ubiquitous presence of President Bashar al-Assad.  Pictures of him in his military uniform or with his family were pervasive in Syria.  After arriving in there, my friend and I asked a Damascus University law student we’d met why there were so many pictures of Assad. He didn’t respond. He simply grabbed my Arabic textbook and flipped to the glossary, where he pointed to the words “beautiful” and “smart.” Even among friends or family it was considered risky to mention President Assad.

From this kind of a society of fear and intimidation, an opposition has arisen. It might be lacking cohesion, but it is formidable given the fact that it exists with any degree of central organization at all.  Still, the United States’ options for dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Syria range from bad to worse, and each passing week brings about more information and complexity to those options.

With these developments in mind, the Middle East Discussion group tried to formulate a U.S. response to the unrest in Syria. We supported a nuanced approach combining several of the available options.  We agreed that if sanctions were increased, the regime would not be able to survive much longer. Given that the Assad regime is not currently relying on its airpower, the group also agreed that a no-fly-zone would be relatively ineffective as a military option.  Military commanders agree with this assessment.  However, some members argued the United States should create a buffer zone, an option with mixed support among policymakers. Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter supports with the option, while journalist Spencer Ackerman does not.

Ultimately, a U.S. response to the violence in Syria should encompass multiple methods of action designed to further unite and strengthen the opposition. The polarized debate on U.S. foreign policy toward Syria does not lend itself easily to this end.

After our meeting, I spoke with a friend who is a Syrian activist. I told him what we talked about and solicited his opinion. He said, "I would rather see our Syria unified under Assad then divided in anarchy." The fundamental question for the U.S. is: do we have the resources and the political will to see the opposition through so that Syrians are not forced to choose between the two?