Failure of leadership in Syria crisis



Hassan Barari

Published — Friday 4 January 2013

Last update 4 January 2013 2:04 am

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It may be easier to say that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his thugocracy are behind the constant killing of the Syrian people. In fact, the press is buzzing with articles and reports that support this statement. Many American analysts argue that while this statement is true, they say that one should also look at the lack of leadership on the part of the international community — particularly the United States — for failure to place a price tag on Assad. They argue that the United States and the West could have done much better. In Libya, for instance, the West did interfere militarily and managed to oust Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi. Explicit in this parallel is a call for repeating the same exercise.
Aaron David Miller, a leading American scholar and analyst, does not see eye to eye with this analysis. He argues that such analysis is not only flawed but has also put the United States in troubles. He made the case that the situation in Libya was different in three senses. First, the international community is divided over Syria with two members of the United Nations Security Council standing firmly against any intervention in Syria. When the NATO took action against the Libyan governmental forces, there was an international consensus. Second, Libya had a weaker regime than Syria with no effective air defense system. And finally, the Libyan fighters held territories from which they managed to push the governmental troops into a defeat.
The case against intervention stems from the fact that there are some fundamental differences between the two cases. The conflict in Syria has triggered sectarian fault lines, external manipulation, and aspects of civil war. In such an atmosphere, an American intervention could have been costly and perhaps counterproductive.
While Aaron David Miller is correct in his reading the situation, it is not clear yet as to why the American administration failed to place a price tag on Assad and did not work swiftly to convince the opposition groups to come up with a united position to expedite the transition.
Not surprisingly, Assad troops took full advantage of the lack of Western pressure and therefore his troops have inflicted heavy losses on the fighters as well as on the people. At one point, Assad was willing to take whatever it takes to repress the fighters. Stories of massacres speak volume, to say the least.
Unfortunately, the international community did little to stop the offense. The focus on some conferences and little aid to the fighters gave the isolated Assad a free hand to employ his killing machine. Not surprisingly, the United States in particular, was driven by its interests and its complicated relationship with Russia. Therefore, it never took a serious effort to deter the Assad regime. Undoubtedly, Washington is in need for Russia’s cooperation with regard to the Iranian nuclear program. Any American intervention in Syria may have complicated the Russian stand on Iran’s nuclear issue. That was a reason that the American administration never tried to escalate the conflict over Syria.
Adding salt to the wound, the regional players proved to be incapable in making a difference in the conflict in Syria. Both sides to the conflict seem to have reached a deadlock with neither side can decide the battle over Damascus. And now all of a sudden, they talk about a negotiated settlement between the Syrian fighters and the opposition on the one hand and the government on the other hand. If anything, regional actors have failed to help either side to the conflict to win. What we have witnessed is a sort of war of attrition that weakened both sides to the conflict.
With that, there is still a risk that the country may descend into a civil war with grave consequences for the region. An earlier firm stand on the part of the international community may have avoided the development of the conflict the way it did.
It is true that the embattled president, Bashar Assad, has been isolated and with no creative options. Nonetheless, a credible threat on the part of the West could have changed the course of actions in Syria. Time and again, the American administration made it perfectly clear that it would not interfere militarily in Syria against the regime. The self-interested international community never felt genuinely in need for an intervention. Did Assad buy time to crack down on his opponents? Absolutely!

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