It seems every time one watches, reads or hears a snippet of news the exact same depressing situation seems to be playing out in Syria – over and over and over again – in fact, so frequently has this story been aired, I will not torture you with a reiteration of it.
It has been a year and a half to the day since the uprising began yet no solution prevails, in fact, many seem to have given up on the situation all together – a bloody, gruesome stalemate; a failure of humanity if you will. Yet just like every other problematic conflict which has plagued history there must, and will, be a solution. It seems there are a number of ways the Syrian situation could play out: a triumph by one side over the other; a military intervention of some kind, presumably by the “West”; a political solution, most likely involving President Assad stepping down or being removed; possibly even a buffer zone set up by Turkey in the north of Syria to quell the violence. In no way is this list exhaustive or complete in any way, in fact the more perceptive among you may have noticed the absence of the most desirable solution – a ‘meeting of the minds’ between the opposition and the regime. The absence of such an outcome is not a lethargic oversight on my part, (of which there will be many throughout the remainder of the piece) but rather a quasi-acceptance that such a result is now, after all the spilled blood and animosity, extremely unlikely to come to fruition.
Military intervention is often the last port of call in the international community’s conflict resolution kit – grisly, costly and often creating more problems than it solves. However the Syrian situation has been stubborn and unyielding, it has intensified instead of faded and thus a military intervention grows more attractive by the day while remaining almost unthinkable. As an indication of just how unattractive a military intervention is perceived to be, one would point to the fact that a year and a half on, with 10,000-15,000 dead there has been no serious talk of an intervention. This unattractiveness is complex and multifaceted, the linchpin of which surely has to be the fear that should a full scale war erupt within Syria, it’s already fragile neighbours, most pointedly Iraq and Lebanon, would teeter on the edge of chaos themselves. Additionally, Russia’s insistence in standing by the Assad regime as it butchers its own people has rendered the United Nations Security Council as, one again, a toothless organisation, while the US and its allies seem to have had quite enough of engaging the Middle East in violence – and rightly so. Iran, it seems, is the elephant in the room. It is well known that the Assad regime and the Iranian elite are rather cosy; in fact there is some evidence to suggest that Iranian commanders have been assisting in supplying and coordinating the Syrian military, undoubtedly calling on their own experiences of the 2009 “Green Revolution”. Iran’s political proximity to the Assad regime gives the Syrian situation yet another dimension due to the Iranians current posturing toward the international community and the constant threats they seem to receive and issue, particularly with regard to Israel. Thus from an American point of view a military intervention into Syria – most definitely serving to raise the ire of Iran – would cast a further shadow over the region and in particular their staunchest ally in the Middle East – Israel – something the Americans are not prepared to do, particularly in an election year!
A far more feasible option, at least on paper, would be the implementation of a humanitarian buffer zone by Turkey (undoubtedly assisted by others) in the north of Syria. Although not solving the problem per se, such a security zone would at least (theoretically) provide safe haven for millions of Syrian civilians caught up in the conflict. Additionally such a region could be used to arm and coordinate the Free Syrian Army and its affiliates, helping to unify a fragmented opposition and strengthen the opposition in its quest to topple the Syrian regime. Of course, this solution too is riddled by a plethora of problems. Russia would almost definitely veto any Security Council resolution proposing such a scheme, China may also be opposed to such a blatant disregard for Syrian sovereignty – as China often are. Thus if such a buffer zone were to be put in place it is most likely that it would need to be done unilaterally, that is, not through the United Nations. This is something which is unpopular with many (see Invasion of Iraq in 2003) and unlikely to get off the ground without a nation willing to lead the way, of which there seem to be few to none at the moment. Additional problems will certainly be encountered when applying the scheme on the ground – skirmishes with the Syrian military would be unavoidable; in fact it is hard to see the Syrian government abstaining from a full frontal attack, especially taking into consideration their reaction to a Turkish reconnaissance aircraft entering their airspace for ‘a few seconds’.
A political solution of some kind is the most likely outcome of the Syrian conflict. As we all know political situation change in the blink of an eye, especially in the Middle East in the past year and a half (Mubarak and Ben Ali). It is very hard to see Bashar Al-Assad voluntarily stepping down from the presidency, in fact it is impossible to see; unless of course an inordinate amount of pressure were to be placed on him. The two most likely sources for such pressure would be internally: from his own government and from exterior allies – primarily Russia and Iran. Predicting such a situation is a fools game and one which I will not take part in, however what does strike one as quite obvious is that the conflict will not end if just Assad goes – it must be a holistic change of government and governance, something which is far harder to accomplish. One only needs to look at Egypt in the present day to realise just how deeply rooted and stubborn a political system can be to remove.
Even if one or all of these solutions were to magically work there remains a fundamental and serious sticking point which will prevent solving the conflict in Syria once and for all – what to do in a post-Assad Syria? Reprisal attacks along sectarian lines will undoubtedly be common place, violence and instability is likely to plague the country for years to come creating thousands of refugees and yet more bloodshed. The Arab Spring has opened many a can of worms and has, in many cases, been praised for doing so. I just wonder, could this be one can too many?Follow @SimonPapaG