Syria: Why a Crackdown Must be Fierce for a Dictatorship to Survive
So protests have been occurring in Syria since 2011. It all began with the waves of peaceful protests induced by the “Jade Spring” or the “Arab Spring”. These wave of pro-political freedoms protests began in Hama in May 2011, and the initial reaction by Bashar al-Assad was to send in the military and crackdown slightly on the protesters. In that same time period, protests occurred in the cities of Homs and Baniyas. HOWEVER, violence had already begun in the battleground of the city of Deraa. In the period of the Siege of Deraa, at least 120 people were initially killed in the first days of battle and by the end of the battle, 4th Armored Corps of the Syrian Army had taken the city.
So what has happened since the beginning? On July 29, 2011, officers of the Syrian Army defected, forming the Free Syrian Army and began defending and taking grounds in the names of the protesters after weeks of participating in violent killings of the protesters in various cities. By October of 2012, the violence had finally reached Damascus and Aleppo, both significant cities of historical and governmental importance to the Syrian state. By April of 2013, rebels were bombarding Damascus, and due to the military leadership of the Free Syrian Army had seized several military bases, commandeering tanks, heavy weapons, and large supplies of munitions.
At the point when the rebels looked strongest, Islamist forces, Hezbollah, began offensives into Syria from the Lebanon border to aid the Syrian government. Through the training by Iranian military advisors and terrorist Hezbollah camps, the Syrian army started forming pro-government militias as they took towns back from the rebels. These militias would commit most of the human rights violations, as they would use knives to commit a massacre in the rebel-controlled town of Bayda, and leaving at least 100 dead.
Wikipedia has a live and updating map with the progress by government, Hezbollah and rebel forces here.
What should the United States do, if anything in Syria?
Opinion of Michael Tagan & Michael McKinney: Back in 2011, the first thing I thought we should do during the Arab Spring was advocate in each of these protests was 1 year, $5 billion deal for each state that would allow foreign observers and limiting voter intimidation in parliamentary elections. Many of the states had dictatorships or dynastic powers, but the establishment of some Upper and Lower House of legislative power would have been enough of a reform for most. Instead, Tunis is the only surviving democracy of the spring states. Algeria is murky, as it always has been; Libya is another quagmire; Egypt is better off with a military controlled interim government for enacting reforms to rebuild itself; Bahrain cracked down on its protests and kept power; Iranians did similar things; finally Assad also tried to crackdown. The problem was Bashar al-Assad is slightly incompetent on handling domestic issues.
Thus Assad was weak and exposed to a successful revolution, rather than the minor democratic reform I would typically offer. Protests formed, and violence began, but the minute those military officials switched sides, my America would have stepped in. We would have sent through the CIA heavy weapons and munitions for the Syrians to fight against the Assad tyranny. We would have been sending through the military into Turkey, Israel, and Jordan supplies to build adequate refugee camps and providing resources and aid to those states in order to keep order in those camps. We would have urged the United Nations to establish a peace-keeping zone in Damascus, where neutral location talks could occur between Free Syrian Army Forces and Assad supporting forces. And the minute that Hezbollah intervened, a terrorist group, I would have given carte blanche to Israel to strike out on an assault on Hezbollah along the Lebanon-Israeli border. That would have kept the extremist taint out of the conflict longer. And the minute Al-Qaeda showed up on the insurgency side, I would have established that military aid would end for the protesters if they didn’t purge the extremism as well.
But hey, I’m your American Imperialist, and I see that the stability of the Middle East hangs on Syria, as all of its neighbors but Israel are in poor positions themselves. I don’t want the dominos to fall the wrong way, and Syria and its neighbors to being back to proxies of Iran. I don’t personally care if the future governments distance themselves from America afterwards, I might even encourage it.
However, at this stage…there’s no possible American solution that can effectively seize the momentum back. It would be more like trying to fight the Korean War at this point. The best anyone could hope for is a permanent truce, much like the unofficial one between Syria and Israel. And after some time, perhaps party talks could be done to implement minor reforms to reintegrate Syria with its other half.
But what do we do at this point, Michael? We wait, that’s what we’ve done for 3 years and that’s all we can do. We as Americans and humans failed to act in good conscious when an evil man began to commit human rights violations upon his citizens. We failed in good conscious to ensure religious freedom in the region, when the protestors began to kill Christians and Jews located in the region. But if we admit these failures, there is something we can do. Start over, and establish a UN neutral zone where Opposition and Government forces can have peace talks. Establish a cease-fire, and in that time profile the opposition. To the forces that are still moderate, and secular in seeking democracy for Syria, we arm in that time and grant food, building materials, and munitions. And should the Russians do the same with the Syrians, as they are already doing, then the moderate forces will have a chance to fight back effectively in the region.