The Case Against Intervention in Syria
In Syria, the brutal regime of Bashar Assad is testing the proposition that repression works. The massacre of civilians in Houla is only the latest example of what appears to be a strategy of making no concessions and using maximum force. To the Assad regime’s way of thinking, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi erred by hesitating, emboldening the opposition and sowing doubts among their supporters. So far, Assad’s strategy has worked. Kofi Annan’s mission, which appears to be based on the idea that Assad will negotiate his own departure, seems utterly doomed. The U.S., the Western world, indeed the civilized world, should attempt instead to dislodge the Assad regime. Is there a smart way to do it?
For a number of reasons, military intervention is unlikely to work in Syria. Start with the geography: unlike Libya, Syria is not a vast country with huge tracts of land where rebels can retreat, hide and be resupplied. Syria is roughly one-tenth the size of Libya but has three times as many people. Partly for this reason, the Syrian rebellion has not been able to take control of any significant part of the country. Nearly half of all Syrians live in or around two cities, Damascus and Aleppo, both of which seem to remain under the regime’s grip. Sporadic night attacks in other places recur, but they don’t expand.
Nor is it clear that the Syrian opposition is capable of unity. Popular opposition to Assad is neither broad-based nor organized. The Syrian National Council, the umbrella group of organized opposition, appears unable to unify behind a leader, agenda or set of goals. Rima Fleihan, a grassroots activist who escaped from Syria to organize the opposition, quit the council, telling the New York Times, “They fight more than they work.”