Following the Diplomatic Road to Damascus

by Christy Ray

The Arab Spring began with a desire for democracy in the Arab world and spread without regard to boarders, toppling governments and bringing change to the world. Syria also took part in the Arab Spring, and while the protests began peacefully, President Bashar al-Assad responded by murdering the dissidents. In the sixteen months since the Syrian uprising, an estimated 17,000 Syrians have been killed—massacres are common and yet there has been little to no help from the international community. The number of people affected by this clash is significantly higher with the figure of U.N.-registered refuges numbering 120,000; the unregistered Syrian refuges make the total number of displaced much higher.

Al-Assad’s overt abuse of power has led to the conclusion among most Americans who pay attention to foreign policy that something must be done to contain the situation. What to do exactly is still an area of contention, however, because both China and Russia have refused to condemn al-Assad’s regime through resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. Regardless if the measures proposed are sanctions or a cease-fire, China and Russia have vetoed three resolutions—to the condemnation of many world leaders—because they fear such resolutions will lead to military intervention and set a new precedent like what happened in Libya. These vetoes have caused the U.S. to give up hope of achieving a diplomatic solution through the U.N. and further complicates a worsening situation that can no longer be ignored. The U.S. must act, even without the support of China and Russia, to prevent the situation from spinning out of control which could further destabilize the entire region.

Syria is a divided country, and if nothing is done to prevent it, even after al-Assad steps down the Sunni, Christian, Alawites, and Kurds are likely to break out into a civil war which could even spill into neighboring Lebanon and Iraq—countries especially fragile in the wake of similar civil wars. As the Sunni-led uprising challenges the Alawites’ power, their success ignites the passions of another powerful Sunni organization, al-Qaeda, and as the fighting in Syria escalates so does the al-Qaeda involvement. These two reasons are frightening in and of themselves, and compounded with the fact that al-Assad has recently threatened to use chemical weapons on “external aggression,” which confirms the long-held suspicions that WMDs exist in the country, it further heightens the risk. If these weapons fall into the wrong hands, say al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, then not only will the shifting power be a cause of worry, but massacres or terrorist attacks in other nations could yield disastrous results. The urgency of the situation can no longer be ignored, and the U.S. must explore all diplomatic means possible to help contain the situation. However, Syria must hear from the U.S. that if chemical weapons are used or are found to be moving from al-Assad’s hands then NATO intervention must be expected.

As a country proclaiming freedom and democracy, it goes against our moral character as Americans to sit back and deny Syrians the freedom they fight for. Horrific scenes of death and destruction are now common and refuges flock to neighboring countries like Turkey or Jordan. We helped other countries, like Libya and Iraq, gain their freedom and now their neighbor needs help. Putting troops on the ground is out of the question, though. Not only does America suffer war-fatigue because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but such actions are not possible without angering—or even inciting conflict with—Russia and China. Nevertheless, there are other diplomatic steps that the U.S., as well as the international community, can take that do not call for a U.N. resolution like supporting the rebels, helping create a transitional government, getting all factions together in Syria to not only support the uprising but also to talk to one another and create a guarantee of protection for minorities after al-Assad’s departure.

Some may argue that there is no way to help Syria without putting troops on the ground or creating something like a NATO controlled no-fly zone. While these are the obvious means of action they are not the only ones and there are diplomatic roads around these without agitating China or Russia. Some also suggest arming rebels, but this is not a prudent course of action because America may very will arm al-Qaeda, or other terrorist organizations, in the process much like when the U.S. armed and trained Osama bin Laden during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. However, by seeking help from allies in the area, like Turkey or the Arab League—or perhaps throwing aside our reluctance to approaching Iran, Syria’s strongest ally—there might be a way to strengthen the rebels’ positions and create safety nets without becoming involved militarily.

The situation in Syria is dire, and there seem to be no good options; however, the option of ignoring the struggle is by far worse than adopting measures to support the actions of the opposition. Al-Assad is an oppressive, brutal dictator who clings to power at the expense of his people and must be removed. And so, America must step in not only for the sake of spreading freedom and democracy, but to prevent a civil war after the dictator’s removal, as well as demonstrating to the region that America is a friend, not a threat. With the increased attacks by al-Qaeda and the danger of biological and chemical warfare breaking out (or the chance of the weapons going to the wrong people in the aftermath of al-Assad’s destruction), Syrian opposition must receive aid from someone. America, and many in the global community, need to stand up for the citizens of Syria and find a way around the Chinese-Russian roadblock.

Even if America does not act, al-Assad’s regime will crumble. However, if nothing is done and America—or the international community at large—stands idly by, waiting for a diplomatic agreement with support from Russia and China then much more will be lost. On top of Syria facing years of uncertainty, turmoil, and bloodshed, the whole world stands to suffer if al-Qaeda gains power or if al-Assad’s WMDs fall into the wrong hands. The world cannot take more instability in the Middle East with so many troubles brewing there already, so when given the opportunity to act we cannot shy away from it. With the help of those supporting democracy, it’s high time for America to stand up for Syria’s freedom rather than watch the ongoing massacre.

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