The Syrian civil war has been raging for more than 2 years now with no end in sight. The conflict will only end with the fall of the Assad regime since there is no foreseeable way for the regime to quell this insurrection.
In hindsight the US and international community has made some significant mistakes when dealing with the Syria civil war. Understandably nobody wanted to step into the middle of a civil war initially and nobody wanted drawn into a protracted conflict.Though the brutality of the conflict should have spurred us into action. Assad executed rebels in the hospitals when they sought treatment. Assad used snipers, tanks and attack helicopters on civilians. Assad has literally been slaughtering anybody whom he chooses. It took very little time for the Syrian conflict to become a full blown humanitarian crisis.
After about 6 months it was rather clear that the Syrian revolution was not going to be swiftly crushed by the Assad regime. Instead it began to look like it would be a long drawn out conflict. At that point the US should have began offering help to deal with the conflict. I can completely respect that the US does not want to put troops in another war zone. In fact I think that we should have come in early with non-combat supplies for the rebel forces. We could have provided them with food, water, communications equipment and medical supplies. Early assistance could have shortened the conflict, saved lives and endeared us to the anti-Assad forces. Alas we opted not to do anything.
Another option was to treat Syria like Tunisia where the international community just finished supporting the revolution through logistical support, supplies and a no-fly zone. In fact the Syrian people questioned why nobody came to support their cause when Tunisia was supported and they are both very similar situations. Unfortunately no single country wanted to act alone and the international community was blocked by Russia on the UN Security Council. Instead we just stood and watched Syrians die.
At this point it is clear that there is no way the Assad regime will ever regain control over Syria. The conflict has gone too far. So it seems it is time to act. But what should be done? Currently there is even greater concern over arming the rebels than previously due to the influx of foreign Jihadi Islamists. Nobody wants to inadvertently arm extremists. Yet the problem is the foreign warriors showing up in Syria are performing well on the battlefield which is making them friends among the Syrians. That means two things, first that any attempt to arm Syrian rebels carries a greater chance of arming Islamists than it would have 12 or 18 months ago. Second any friendship / influence that can be garnered from arming the rebels is going to be far less than it would have a year ago. Simply put we waited too long to react and our window of opportunity is closing.
On top of everything the Syrian situation is destabilizing more countries than just Syria. More than a million refugees have fled Syria mostly going to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Each of those countries is currently dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees and this is putting a strain on supplies, infrastructure and finances. If we continue to ignore Syria the refugees will continue flowing into other countries. Before long the refugees themselves will become a destabilizing force as it becomes more and more difficult to deal with the growing number of refugees.
Now we need to move forward and try to salvage the situation. We need to bring this conflict to an end. It is clear the international intervention is the best available choice. The international community should institute a no-fly zone while using aircraft to eliminate Assad’s air force, heavy ground vehicles and artillery. Additionally we need to supply the anti-Assad forces, at the very least we need to provide food, water, communications equipment and medical supplies. I understand concerns about arming the rebels since the weapons may well turn up being used against us in the future. But even providing air support and supplies could turn the conflict around far quicker than ignoring it.
Additionally we need to address the humanitarian crisis due to refugees. This is an opportunity for the US to help save lives, demonstrate commitment to the Syria people and build relations with middle-eastern countries. If we step in and provide supplies, housing and medics for the refugee camps then both the refugees and host country may be very grateful. This can be an excellent opportunity to build relations in the Middle-east. Currently we have good relationship with Turkey and Jordan so we should definitely be in there helping. They are friends and helping the refugees is simply the right thing to do. But we should really try and help Lebanon as much as possible. In fact we should see if we can work directly with them to help with the logistics of the refugee camps including construction, maintenance, medical services, food services, supplies and anything else. Lebanon has good relations with most of the middle-east and has even hosted the Arab League Summit. Also Lebanon is not considered to be a puppet of the US like Israel is so that means that Lebanon holds more influence over middle-eastern countries. Creating a strong relationship with as many middle-eastern countries as possible is in the interest of the US and this is an opportunity to do so.
The international community may have ignored the Syrian revolution far too long but we must move to salvage the situation. We must bring an end to the conflict in order to save lives and end the humanitarian crisis. We must attempt to build relations with the state which will emerge from the ashes of Syria. While at the same time we must aid countries in dealing with refugees and the strain that puts on the host countries. In doing so we can try to build and strengthen our relations with the middle-east. We may have failed to act for 2 years and nothing can turn back the harm already done. But the time has come to get involved and try to salvage the situation. Let’s move forward and help the Syrian people inside and outside of Syria.