Syria: On the Edge of Civil WarPrintable Version
Thursday, February 23, 2012
With increased violence in Syria signaling a slide into civil war, the crisis is intensifying. Bloomberg News correspondent Indira Lakshmanan and an expert panel discussed the choices facing the international community and the implications of the Syrian conflict for the region.
Tearing Down the Wall of Fear
For Daniel Serwer, Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the prospect for a quick resolution is grim and the likelihood of civil war high. With violence and instability reigning in Syria, people are increasingly retreating into their ethnic and sectarian identities for protection. Specific groups are beginning to more heavily arm, yet Professor Serwer believes the opposition cannot compete on a military level with the regime. The more useful tactic would be to double the efforts for public, non-violent protest so as to continue to tear down "the wall of fear" Ms. Yacoubian had alluded to.
Professor Serwer strongly opposed the military option, as it could serve to accelerate the demise of the opposition and/or the prospect of civil war. His policy prescription follows the traditional "end of war" scenario: work towards a ceasefire, deploy more effective observers, and then ultimately begin a political process for reconciliation. Strengthening the diplomatic route will be difficult, as Professor Serwer notes that the U.S. now has little presence within Syria and reduced leverage over Russia and China. However, he believes it essential that the opposition refuses to let Assad re-construct the "wall of fear", while externally, all diplomatic efforts are employed.
Assad's Days Are Numbered
Mona Yacoubian, Middle East Project Director at the Stimson Center, outlined the growing crisis in Syria with the regime's brutal repression of opposition forces only gaining steam. Despite the double veto (Russia and China) in the UN Security Council, Ms. Yacoubian sees the demise of the Assad regime as a near certainty – only the exact timeline is still up for debate. This outlook is based on the perceived weakening two essential pillars that have sustained Syrian strength: internal fear and regional/external strategic importance.
The unique atmosphere of the Arab spring has encouraged the opposition movement to voice their protest in public and to shed the longstanding fear of dissent. Secondly, Syria has lost its "geostrategic resonance" by way of further regional and international isolation. Ms. Yacoubian believes that the complexity of the situation, as a result of the sectarian fault lines that run through the opposition, has raised the need for the opposition leadership to more effectively assimilate these varying identities. Military support, which would flood the opposition movement with arms, would serve to only exacerbate the sectarian power struggle. Despite Ms. Yacoubian's pessimism about a military solution, she sees growing momentum within the international community to take an active role in facilitating the key "tipping points" of regime collapse.
The Arab World Turns Against Assad
Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Arabiya, discussed the regional influences on the Syrian uprising. Not a single Arab state voted with Syria in the UN Assembly (Algeria and Lebanon abstained), highlighting the growing tide against the Assad regime. Through mismanagement of political relationships with his Arab neighbors, Bahsar al-Assad has alienated Syria in the region. As Mr. Melhem explained, Syria is no longer seen as "the beating heart of Arabism." The Iran-Syria axis, the one constant since 1979, has now enhanced regional antipathy towards the Syrian state. Iran’s rise as a Mediterranean power, through its special relationship with Syria and regional proxies, provides added incentive for the Gulf States to support the opposition to the Assad regime.
Mr. Melhem sees American engagement and leadership as essential in developing an international response that can isolate the Assad regime and end its ability to attack its own citizens. Melhem suggests the military option should not be removed from the table. He believes Turkish involvement would significantly aid this process. All agreed that an active and coordinated international effort is needed to curb the tide of civil war and further the drive for justice.