Not If But When: Planning for the Inevitable Syrian Rebel Victory

23 Nov

Debates in the UN have, for months, have focused on whether or not military intervention should happen on Syria.  These debates have dragged on and on with little movement in any direction, and have also simultaneously ignored that the conflict is no longer a stalemate: the rebels are winning.  Not only are they winning, but there is increasing evidence that Assad has lost his ability to eventually prevail.  It’s unclear when the Syrian rebels will win, but a post-Assad Syria is now a near certainty.  Therefore, the focus for international actors needs to shift from dilly-dallying on intervention to serious planning on how to safeguard human rights once the Assad regime is toppled.

Unlike in Libya, the decision on the behalf of Western powers whether or not to intervene will not be the defining moment of the conflict.  At this point in the conflict, the effects of intervention will not be military, but rather political.  How will intervention affect the involvement and credibility of western governments in building a new regime?  In Libya, NATO members have taken a relatively hands off approach, and while there are still many problems, the country has held free elections and is relatively stable.  The west has far from a perfect record on state-building, but there are some things, such as aid money, technical expertise, and bureaucratic capacity that the international community could provide without trying to handpick Syria’s new leaders.

The sectarianization of the conflict does not bode well for the eventual losers in Syria. In Libya, the sides were definitely partially drawn along ethnic lines, but the contours were not nearly as clear as they are in Syria.  Assad has armed Christians, Alawites, and Druze, and these groups have sided with almost exclusively sided with the government.  This ethnic dynamic has caused numerous sectarian killings over the course of the war, and the hateful rhetoric is only growing louder.  Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect writes, “Indeed, as pro-democracy protests degenerated into civil war, the ideological composition of the opposition changed. The Free Syrian Army’s slogan remains, “We are all one people of one country.” But inside Syria those chanting “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves!” have become more than a fringe element.”  While the Syrian National Coalition is certainly more representative than the Syrian National Council, the structural factors do not seem positive for Alawites, Christians, and Druze.  If the international community wants to have a lasting legacy in Syria, civilian protection and human rights promotion has to be the central focus.  Unfortunately, the prospects for international involvement in these areas looks grim.  There has been very little international condemnation, if any, of the sectarian killings carried out by the FSA.  Similarly, the west’s record in preventing minority persecution in Libya is dismal.  A serious change in orientation is needed to protect minority groups from likely being at the mercy of Sunni militias once Assad is defeated.

Another big question that has been largely ignored is what post-conflict justice will look like in Syria.  The ethnic dimension only amplifies the dangers of a harsh, victor’s justice.  Therefore, this is the second key area in which western governments can participate.  There are numerous routes that this effort could take, from the ICC to a truth and reconciliation commission.  Whatever method is chosen, it must apply equally to all participants in the conflict and allow the Syrian people to move one with the sense that justice has been done.  For Western governments, it is not enough to simply hasten the downfall of Assad.  In order to play a constructive role, foreign nation must begin working with Syrian partners to assure fair representation, respect for human rights, and a comprehensive justice mechanism in an inevitable post-Assad Syria.


3 Responses to “Not If But When: Planning for the Inevitable Syrian Rebel Victory”

  1. stateofthecentury November 27, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    Britain, France, the Gulf States and Turkey formally recognizing the new Syrian opposition is a step in the right direction to effectively assist in creating the institutions of a new government once the civil war is resolved


  1. Conflict to Watch in 2013 (Part II) « The Widening Lens - January 3, 2013

    […]  Assad will almost certainly fall this year, and that’s what the world must prepare for.  I’ve written before on the real dangers of talking about Syria in the framework of interventio… while ignoring that the conflict between the FSA and Assad is not the potentially defining moment […]

  2. An Intervention in Mali Won’t Solve Anything « The Widening Lens - January 16, 2013

    […] far, the international community response to events in Mali, like Syria, have been placed in a false framework.  The conflict is historiopolitical rather […]

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