Running Out of Options
Fatal bombing in Damascus exacerbates Syrian crisis
Today’s bombing in Damascus, the worst yet in Syria’s enduring crisis, is another sign that the situation is becoming increasingly desperate. The bombing killed 40 people immediately, and injured another 170, according to Syrian state media. As the old saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, but what measures are on offer?
Some high-profile American politicians have been calling for international intervention in Syria since the crisis began. Senators John McCain (Republican), Joseph Lieberman (independent, formerly a Democrat), both former candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency, and Lindsey Graham (Republican), have urged the US to arm the Syrian opposition. All three are members of the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee.
Senator McCain, in particular, has called for the use of American air power in Syria. Speaking in the Senate in March, he said: “The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”
Another high-profile senator has now suggested that the time may be fast approaching for a more active posture. In an interview in Tuesday, Senator John Kerry, the Democrat presidential candidate in 2004 and the head of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said that establishing ‘safe zones’ for civilians and refugees inside Syria, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, was looking more desirable. He also said that arming the opposition and assisting it with organization and military training was also an option in order to force Assad to negotiate seriously, even if it meant doing it indirectly via the Arab League or the Gulf states.
Senator Kerry stopped short of calling for airstrikes, but said: “You have to change the current dynamic. That’s to me the bottom line…We have to increase the pressure, change the calculations, and succeed in creating a capacity for a movement to a negotiated reform process with a transition that takes place through elections at the right moment.”
Others are offering other plans and options in order to bring the slide towards outright civil war to a halt. Blogging for Foreign Policy magazine, Harvard academic Stephen Walt suggested a last-ditch diplomatic campaign by the US to cajole Russia to persuade Assad to step down and go into exile “sooner rather than later, before all-out war occurs and before the entire Syrian state collapses.”
This course of action, he concedes, would be a ‘Hail Mary pass’: American Football slang for a last-ditch effort with meager chances of success, given that it would mean persuading Russia to abandon Assad, whom it has assiduously supported up to now, and assumes that Assad and his inner circle would be willing to give up the fight, something they have given no signs of doing.
With the ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan steadily disintegrating, it seems both Syria and the outside world are running out of options, and had a very small stock of good ones to begin with.