Foreign intervention would compromise popular uprising in Syria

By Ghassan Rubeiz
January 14, 2012

If left to their own devices, Syrians would surely continue the current uprising to reach their goals. The revolutionaries of this strategic Arab country need to unite internally, and seek international moral support, not military assistance.

The current presence of the Arab League in Syria is of little value. This regional body has minimum credibility and capacity to manage conflict. As the League proves it is unable to handle Syria, aggressive alternatives of external intervention are getting louder. The truth is that only Syrians can and should reform Syria. Through the process of reform a new state will be built.

Concerned about Syria, a Washington-based reader recently wrote to me: The Syria debate will trend toward whether or not we should contribute to or lead the charge for the establishment of some sort of a safe zone, similar to the one we provided to the Kurds in Iraq in the 90s.

In my view foreign intervention would drive the country into a full- fledged civil war, give the regime the excuse to continue the crackdown on dissent, alienate the undecided, and invite destructive groups to fuel turmoil. In joining the uprising, defecting soldiers should not use their arms against the national army. To win a battle of wills a country could be lost.

Avoiding external military aid is not easy for a revolt which started peacefully and met with disproportional violence from the ruling regime. The rebels continue to suffer heavily in terms of life and property. Regrettably, the severity of oppression of the Assad regime has driven the external wing of the opposition to seek help from the West, in particular Washington. But whose support in Washington are the rebels seeking?

Contacts are deepening between the international side of the Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), and agents of the neocons who have not long ago pushed the US to war in Iraq.

On 20 December 2011, the SNC appealed to the international community to create “safe zones for civilians” and for “prompt intervention to stop the massacre.” This Syrian opposition appeal was soon matched by a Washington lobbying initiative. The next day, on 21 December, the Foreign Policy Initiative sent an open letter to President Obama which called for “crippling sanctions” on the Syrian government and for supporting the military capacity of the opposition forces.

The Foreign Policy Initiative, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies are currently lobbying together for an aggressive US role in Syria, in the name of freedom and protection of the innocent dissident.

All three institutions have right-wing leanings and a hidden agenda: insuring the passivity of a future Syrian regime on matters of war and peace with Israel. While the Syrian current rulers have been unsuccessful in confronting Israel’s occupation, strangely, they have established the reputation of being staunch defenders of Arab interests.

Targeting Iran is also part of the picture of this aggressive stance for Syria. The neocons have been vigorously rationalising a US - Israel coordinated attack on Iran. And now these same advocates of “good will” are justifying the use of force to establish a no-fly zone in Syria.

So far, the US Administration has not changed its policy of staying out of volatile Syria. There is no appetite for new military missions. But things could change as political vacuum in Syria widens and election pressure on Obama mounts.

Marwa Daoudi is a visiting scholar at Woodrow Wilson’s School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She strongly cautioned against international intervention in Syria, her country of origin. Daoudi is eager to see the Syrian uprising march to liberation with nonviolent civil disobedience and other tactics of community-based resistance:

...The struggle for change needs to be fought from within and transition to democracy peacefully implemented. This implies that foreign military intervention should, under all circumstances, be ruled out; domestically, resistance to the regime should also remain unarmed (Aljazeera English, Jan 5, 2012).

Daoudi explains her people’s mindset: It is safe to say that the majority of the Syrian population has been appalled by the 'solutions' implemented in Iraq and Libya. American troops have finally withdrawn from Iraq, leaving several hundred thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties in their trail, a million refugees and a country in shambles and civil war… Libya is in turmoil and the spoils of war remain a source of conflict between internal and external powers.

Daoudi expresses the aspirations of the Syrians who wish to achieve radical reform without exposing the country to external manipulation. She also ties the transformational quality of the revolution to the discipline of nonviolent resistance.

Sobering lessons from Iraq should not be forgotten in dealing with Syria.


© Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, currently resident in Florida, USA, has written for The Christian Science Monitor and the Arab-American News Services. He is a former Middle East Secretary of the World Council of Churches.

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