SYRIA, WHAT NEXT?
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
03 May 13. Caught between a rock and a hard place and having previously rejected all notion of providing arms to Syrian rebels the latest rhetoric emanating from Washington DC suggests that the US administration is busy readying itself and the international community for a dramatic change of heart. Should the US and its allies now become involved in attempting to resolve the internal Syrian conflict? Should, when and if the EU ban on supplying arms to Syrian rebels theoretically expires in a few weeks’ time, the US and maybe UK and French begin supplying arms to ‘rebels’ that they don’t even know on whose side they stand? Other than in terms of diplomatic effort should the ‘West’ be involved at all in what is a after all a sectarian based war or should we better leave this to the diplomatic efforts of the United Nations, China, Russia, the US, Britain that met yesterday? Should the Arab League now significantly raise its profile and role by pushing forward with plans to create a transitional government in Syria and which some believe may not be in the best interests of securing a lasting peace and end to this bloody conflict? These are all questions that need to be answered but is time running out for a diplomatic solution? I will attempt to cover some of these point.
With 70,000 people reported as having been killed in Syria over the past two years, another 1.4m people displaced as refugees to Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere and over four million people reported to have lost their homes it seems that Western government are now beginning to wake up to the seriousness of the Syrian humanitarian problem. The regime of Bashar Al-Assad has provided a tough resistance to the many factions and organisations that the ‘west’ likes to term as ‘rebels’. Pressure on the ‘West’ to act whether directly by arming ‘rebels’ or by intensifying diplomatic efforts has never been greater. In the US Senator John McCain has led the call for the US and its allies to arms the rebels and to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria. McCain, a Vietnam veteran, has also suggested the possibility that if there are chemical weapons to be found in Syria an allied force should go in and destroy them. Public opinion in the US as to whether intervention in Syria is the best option is equally divided as it across in less pronounced measures across various other parts of the world.
Having already said that use of chemical weapons would be a ‘game changer’ in terms of US policy toward involvement in the civil war raging in Syria President Obama and his relatively new Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel had little option but to begin gauging domestic political opinion as to whether the US should now provide support to the Syrian rebels. With the chemical weapons ‘red line’ supposedly breached and having dug himself into that particular hole we may be only days away from knowing whether the US is about to reconsider its view on supporting Syrian rebels by supplying them with arms. Having brought troops home from Iraq, having drawn up plans for the bulk of US troops to leave Afghanistan the thought that American troops might soon find themselves in Syria is clearly not where the US President wanted to be. With the Assad administration watching on how President Obama handles events over coming days and weeks will be seen as one of the biggest tests of his administration.
Over two years the sectarian based civil war in Syria – for that in reality is what this really is – has not only cost 70,000 innocent lives, even more injuries and destroyed much Syrian infrastructure in the major cities and towns it has brought home that no matter how the ‘west’ might prefer atrocities and humanitarian concerns require far more than mere observance. Large amounts of the Syrian population have already fled to neighbouring Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere.
Syria is a very large country and one that I mysel