Syria: Mission Impossible

Syria is increasingly resembling a Gordian knot: If Western powers do not intervene, Assad will continue to slaughter his people. And if they decide on more sanctions or military intervention, they are opening a Pandora's Box of new geopolitical problems.

Part of the big powers’ lack of decisions about Syria can be explained by the unlucky concentration of elections and top-post nominations around the world that are taking place in 2012. In the West, both the US and French presidential elections will be held this year and incumbent leaders are afraid to displease citizens by engaging in uncertain and costly military operations. Russia’s electoral merry-go-round formally completed its turn in March, and the people are too busy escaping the Tsar’s wrath, to express any interest in the events in Damascus. That, or Russian bureaucrats are spending all of their effort on retaining a chair inside the Kremlin before Putin’s inauguration in May. China is also anticipating a changing of the guard: Wen Jiabao, the world’s least charismatic political leader after the UN’s Ban Ki Moon, will be soon replaced by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang. Since Syria is at the center of a tense network of political interests – from Tehran to Beirut – the stalemate will not be solved until the bearers of such interests have solved the annoying questions of domestic power.

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In the meantime, Syria is left to its destiny.

It has been argued that an armed intervention, although justifiable for the moral reason of saving civilians from being killed by mafia boss Assad, may bring uncertain results at a political level. If the West intervenes, the Sunni component of the revolt may take over the country, excluding Shiites (or other local minorities) from power. This would provoke widespread resentment by the Shiite Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, by Shiite Iran, and by the latter’s principal allies residing in Moscow.

Eventually, if the West does not intervene, there is likely to be no positive scenario. Let’s assume that Assad wins: He would merrily accept additional help from the Russians and carry on the pro-active “pain-in-the-Arab-back” game alongside Iran. Tens of thousands of people would be repressed. The regime would have a free hand to develop the ultimate police state inside Syria.

Now let’s assume that the rebellion wins.

This seems rather unlikely at the moment, but let’s consider the option. Before Damascus is taken over by rebel forces, Assad may flee to Tehran and his wife Asma may get an internship post at Vogue, where people love her. The rebels will set up their alternative Sunni regime and will remain faithful to all those who helped them: Saudi Arabia and Sunni Islamic organizations, plus – so the reports – organizations like Al Quaeda.

What we see now is a “Balkanization” of the conflict – yet no NATO bombing will help solve the conflict as it did in Serbia in the 1990s. The Syrian conflict will take years to resolve. Already, the death count has supposedly hit 10,000 while the international community watches. The same community that, for one reason or another, cannot intervene.

Stefano Casertano, The European Magazine;