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The Syria Dilemma

The Syria Dilemma

Nader Hashemi
Danny Postel
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Syria Dilemma
    Book Description:

    The United States is on the brink of intervention in Syria, but the effect of any eventual American action is impossible to predict. The Syrian conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions, yet most observers warn that the worst is still to come. And the international community cannot agree how respond to this humanitarian catastrophe. World leaders have repeatedly resolved not to let atrocities happen in plain view, but the legacy of the bloody and costly intervention in Iraq has left policymakers with little appetite for more military operations. So we find ourselves in the grip of a double burden: the urge to stop the bleeding in Syria, and the fear that attempting to do so would be Iraq redux.What should be done about the apparently intractable Syrian conflict? This book focuses on the ethical and political dilemmas at the heart of the debate about Syria and the possibility of humanitarian intervention in today's world. The contributors--Syria experts, international relations theorists, human rights activists, and scholars of humanitarian intervention--don't always agree, but together they represent the best political thinking on the issue.The Syria Dilemmaincludes original pieces from Michael Ignatieff, Mary Kaldor, Radwan Ziadeh, Thomas Pierret, Afra Jalabi, and others.Contributors:Asli Bâli, Richard Falk, Tom Farer, Charles Glass, Shadi Hamid, Nader Hashemi, Christopher Hill, Michael Ignatieff, Afra Jalabi, Rafif Jouejati, Mary Kaldor, Marc Lynch, Vali Nasr, Thomas Pierret, Danny Postel, Aziz Rana, Christoph Reuter, Kenneth Roth, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Fareed Zakaria, Radwan Ziadeh, Stephen Zunes

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31733-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[xii])
  3. Introduction Why Syria Matters
    (pp. 1-18)
    Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel

    The killing fields of Syria are rapidly approaching those of Bosnia. According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, 92,901 unique killings have occurred between March 2011 and April 2013, including 6,561 children.¹ Nearly two million have fled the country and 4.2 million have been internally displaced since the conflict began. “We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in July.² “After nearly two years, we no longer count days in hours, but in bodies,”...

  4. Syria Is Not Iraq: Why the Legacy of the Iraq War Keeps Us from Doing the Right Thing in Syria, February 4, 2013
    (pp. 19-28)
    Shadi Hamid

    More than a year ago, a real debate began over whether to intervene militarily in Syria. Here inThe Atlantic, Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations was one of the first to propose taking military action—or at least thinking seriously about it.19When Cook wrote his article (which, in its prescience, is well worth re-reading today), around 5,000 Syrians had been killed. Today, the number is more than 10 times that, and is now over 60,000 according to some estimates. I remember, early on, wondering whether 15,000 would be a “trigger.”

    But, apparently, there is no “trigger.”...

  5. Why There Is No Military Solution to the Syrian Conflict, May 13, 2013
    (pp. 29-44)
    Aslı Bâli and Aziz Rana

    Today, as violence intensifies in Syria, external powers, including the United States, are openly debating direct intervention. Such intervention is framed as serving multiple goals at once—as a means of securing chemical weapons caches, a mechanism to protect the civilian population, and a necessary measure to ensure that the successors to the Assad regime are adequately beholden to the U.S. and its regional allies.

    But whether the intentions are humanitarian or strategic, policies of arming opposition groups, along with discussions of establishing “safe zones,” using Patriot missile batteries to enforce a “no-fly zone” and more direct calls for military...

  6. Bosnia and Syria: Intervention Then and Now
    (pp. 45-60)
    Michael Ignatieff

    When state order collapses, as it did in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as it is doing now in Syria, chaos unleashes existential fear among all the groups who had once sheltered under the protection of the state. Such fear makes it difficult to sustain multi-confessional, pluralist, tolerant orders when dictatorship falls apart. When state order collapses, every confessional or ethnic group asks one question: who will protect us now?23

    As Sunni, Alawite, Christian, Druze and Shia ask this question, they know the only possible answer is themselves. In a Hobbesian situation—a war of all against all—each individual gravitates...

  7. What Should Be Done About the Syrian Tragedy? Citizen Pilgrimage, January 19, 2013
    (pp. 61-76)
    Richard Falk

    Ever since the Vietnam War I have viewed all Western claims to use force in the post-colonial non-West with suspicion. I support presumptions in favor of non-intervention and self-determination, both fundamental norms of international law.

    But in January I attended the full-day conference on “Resolving the Syria Crisis” that Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel convened at the University of Denver, and I left dissatisfied with my position that nothing more could or should be done at the international level to help end the violence in Syria or to assist the struggle of the Syrian people. I became convinced that human...

  8. Anxiously Anticipating a New Dawn: Voices of Syrian Activists
    (pp. 77-92)
    Afra Jalabi

    This essay is an attempt to present the perspectives of a range of Syrian civil society activists from varying backgrounds and give voice to their struggles with the question of what is the solution to the nightmare they are living through. Despite the bleak conditions they are confronting, these activists maintain the ethos that started the Syrian revolution and keep it going, and express views that could spare the country yet further destruction.

    While visiting the liberated areas around the countryside of Idlib last January, we came across a crumbling wall with hideous graffiti on it, a remnant of those...

  9. Syria Is Not a Problem from Hell—But If We Don’t Act Quickly, It Will Be, May 31, 2012
    (pp. 93-100)
    Anne-Marie Slaughter

    Nothing to be done. It’s impossible. Stalemate at the United Nations.

    These are the mantras that continue to accompany ever more violent and wrenching pictures of massacres and daily killings in Syria. The country has been “sliding toward civil war” for months now without any meaningful change in the international response. The Russian government originally seems to have calculated that President Bashar al-Assad could crush the opposition the way Vladimir Putin crushed the uprising in Chechnya, but that degree of brutality would have brought international intervention for sure. The “Annan Plan” is becoming a synonym for hypocrisy and inaction. The...

  10. Supporting Unarmed Civil Insurrection in Syria, “Supporting non-violence in Syria,” December 20, 2012
    (pp. 101-118)
    Stephen Zunes

    The worsening violence and repression in Syria have left many analysts and policymakers in the United States and other western countries scrambling to think of ways our governments could help end the bloodshed and support those seeking to dislodge the Assad regime. The desperate desire to “do something” has led a growing number of people to advocate for increased military aid to armed insurgents or even direct military intervention.

    While understandable, to support the armed opposition would likely exacerbate the Syrian people’s suffering and appear to validate the tragic miscalculation by parts of the Syrian opposition to supplant their bold...

  11. A Syrian Case for Humanitarian Intervention
    (pp. 119-130)
    Radwan Ziadeh

    Since the struggle for freedom and democracy in Syria began in March 2011, Syrian security forces and the Syrian army have killed at least 80,000 people and laid complete waste to the country. More than 1.5 million refugees have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, and 5 million Syrians have been forced to abandon their homes due to the violence. According to reports issued by the United Nations and international human rights organizations, Syrian government forces have routinely bombarded densely populated civilian areas with artillery, deployed snipers and helicopters in urban areas, and tortured detained protestors and human rights...

  12. Syria: The Case for Staggered Decapitation
    (pp. 131-146)
    Tom Farer

    By imagining what the Obama administration might have done at the first clear signs that the demand for change in the Arab world had finally reached Syria and that the Assad regime was determined to drench it with the blood of its bearers we may clarify what could be done now.

    President Obama had in a sense been preparing for this moment of truth since his inauguration. He had explicitly embraced the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) and declared the prevention of slaughter to be an important U.S. national security interest. He had drawn into the select ranks of...

  13. A Humanitarian Strategy Focused on Syrian Civilians, “Bordering on a New World War I,” April 27, 2013
    (pp. 147-160)
    Mary Kaldor

    “Can I ask you a question?” said the person I was interviewing on a recent trip to southern Turkey. He had owned a water pump store in northern Syria and left with his family because of the constant shelling and bombardment, including the use of white phosphorus. Now he is part of a self-organized Syrian group providing relief to refugees now living in camps in the area and representing their voices. “This is the Holocaust,” he said. “This is the First World War. Why is no one in Europe doing anything? Can you explain it?”

    It was a question I...

  14. How to Ease Syrian Suffering New York Times, February 8, 2013
    (pp. 161-166)
    Kenneth Roth

    The Syrian people are caught in a horrible downward spiral. The government’s slaughter seems only to intensify as President Bashar al-Assad pursues a ruthless strategy of draining the sea to get the fish—attacking civilians so they will flee and leave the armed opposition isolated.

    Meanwhile, the sprawling collection of militias that constitute the armed opposition includes some that are themselves torturing and executing prisoners and promoting sectarian strife. While not on a par with the government-directed slaughter, their abuses encourage Syria’s minorities to stick with the murderous Assad rather than risk an uncertain future under rebel rule.

    The Syrian...

  15. The Last Thing Syrians Need Is More Arms Going to Either Side The Guardian, March 4, 2013
    (pp. 167-172)
    Charles Glass

    Russia and Iran are providing weapons and ammunition to Syria’s President Assad, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar deliver arms through Turkey to his opponents. John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, has just announced that the U.S. is increasing its non-lethal assistance to the rebels by a further $60m. Britain is asking the E.U. to lift its embargo on arms sales to the opposition.

    None of this seems designed to end a conflict that, for a moment, seemed to be heading hesitantly towards negotiation. Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the Syrian National Coalition, offered last month to discuss a settlement...

  16. Syria Is Melting
    (pp. 173-182)
    Rafif Jouejati

    As horrific as the death toll in Syria is, the impact of Assad’s atrocities spreads far wider. Some 22 million Syrians are caught in the crossfire of the regime’s desperate attempt to crush all civilian dissent, destroy communities and local councils, and hold on to power in the face of a popular uprising that has turned into an increasingly sophisticated and bearded armed opposition. Foreign jihadists practically found welcome mats at Syria’s doorstep as Assad allowed (and encouraged, as some maintain) rampant chaos to spread throughout the country. Meanwhile, Assad and his forces treat medical personnel, teachers, and relief workers...

  17. Shopping Option C for Syria: Against Arming the Rebels, February 14, 2013
    (pp. 183-194)
    Marc Lynch

    The failure of American diplomacy to end Syria’s parade of horrors has rightfully driven the policy community to search for a useful alternative. But arming the rebels was always a classic “Option C.” Every bureaucrat knows the trick of offering three options—one to do nothing, one so outlandish that it is easily rejected, and then one that takes the seemingly sensible middle ground, allowing the decision-maker the illusion that they are resolving the problem.

    Whether or not Option C has any chance of actually working is almost an afterthought. For an example of how this works, see “the Afghan...

  18. The Price of Inaction in Syria Spiegel Online International, “War without End: The Price of Inaction in Syria,” April 4, 2013
    (pp. 195-206)
    Christoph Reuter

    Take a moment to imagine things this way: A Syrian dictator with a full beard—an Islamist harboring al-Qaida sympathies—has the Christian population of his country shot, starved, and bombed, lets fanatical militias massacre non-believers and burns the country down to ashes. Were that the case, an alliance of Western nations would step up to intervene faster than you could say “Mali.”

    Yet the people of Syria have been trying to rid themselves of a dictator for two years now. They spent months getting shot at while participating in peaceful demonstrations before they started putting up armed resistance, and...

  19. With or Without Us: Why Syria’s Future Is in Its Own Hands TIME, May 13, 2013
    (pp. 207-212)
    Fareed Zakaria

    Those urging the U.S. to intervene in Syria are certain of one thing: If we had intervened sooner, things would be better in that war-torn country. Had the Obama Administration gotten involved earlier, there would be less instability and fewer killings. We would not be seeing, in John McCain’s words of April 28, “atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time.”

    In fact, we have seen atrocities much worse than those in Syria very recently, in Iraq under U.S. occupation only a few years ago. From 2003 to 2012, despite there being...

  20. The Dangerous Price of Ignoring Syria New York Times, April 15, 2013
    (pp. 213-220)
    Vali Nasr

    President Obama has doggedly resisted American involvement in Syria. The killing of over 70,000 people and the plight of over a million refugees have elicited sympathy from the White House but not much more. That is because Syria challenges a central aim of Obama’s foreign policy: shrinking the U.S. footprint in the Middle East and downplaying the region’s importance to global politics. Doing more on Syria would reverse the U.S. retreat from the region.

    Since the beginning of Obama’s first term, the administration’s stance as events unfolded in the Middle East has been wholly reactive. This “lean back and wait”...

  21. Syria, Savagery, and Self-Determination: What the Anti-Interventionists Are Missing
    (pp. 221-236)
    Nader Hashemi

    There is a wide body of opinion against arming the Syrian rebels. These voices, especially those on the Left, argue that pursuing a military defeat of the Assad regime is mistaken and misguided because it increases civilian suffering and prolongs the conflict. Stephen Zunes, for example, has argued that “it is critical to not allow the understandably strong emotional reaction to the ongoing carnage lead to policies that could end up making things worse.” In response to the question of what should be done about the nightmare in Syria, he has written that the “short answer, unfortunately, is not much.”41...

  22. From Dayton to Damascus New York Times, “When to Talk to Monsters,” May 13, 2013
    (pp. 237-244)
    Christopher R. Hill

    Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s handling of the Syrian crisis increasingly argue that the problem is his administration’s reluctance to intervene militarily. In fact, the problem lies elsewhere—in the administration’s unwillingness to lead a sustained and substantial diplomatic effort to identify political arrangements that could offer Syrians a way out of civil war. That process, not American bombs, brought about the end of the war in Bosnia in the 1990s—an experience that remains relevant today.

    The narrative of the two-year Syrian crisis has been dominated by the question of whether America should become involved militarily, as if...

  23. Better Assad Than the Islamists? Why the “Argument from Islamism” Is Wrong
    (pp. 245-254)
    Thomas Pierret

    One of the most common arguments against Western involvement in the Syrian conflict is that Islamists dominate the armed opposition. From this point of view, the Assad regime is seen as a secular bulwark that should be preserved until a political agreement is reached or, more cynically, until the two sides achieve mutual destruction. This approach relies on the assumption that no credible alternative to the radical Islamists exists among the rebels and that any kind of intervention would therefore empower forces that are inimical to both democratic values and Western interests.

    As for the beleaguered but resilient Assad we...

    (pp. 255-264)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 265-276)
    (pp. 277-280)
    (pp. 281-285)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 286-287)