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Arab Justice for Arab Violence

NEW YORK – For months now, it has been clear that no peaceful, even satisfactory, resolution of the conflict in Syria is possible without external intervention. Paradoxically, too many Syrian civilians have been tortured, wounded, and killed to stop the demonstrations seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. The victims’ families, friends, and neighbors simply will not accept the Assad regime’s continuation in any form. So what will happen?

One possibility is that the regime will greatly escalate the killing. If it kills ten or 20 times as many as have died thus far, perhaps it will succeed in creating so much terror that the protests will stop. Though this is far from certain, it is hard to imagine that maintaining the current level of violence will make Syrians bow to the regime, given that so many have refused to do so up to now.

Another possibility is that Assad, his family, and his top associates flee the country. But, even in that case, their flight probably would not end the strife. The Syrian armed forces have so much blood on their hands that those who have suffered losses or sympathize with the victims of repression are sure to demand that the killers be held accountable. Without a mechanism in place to see that justice is meted out in a fair and orderly way, Assad’s departure, by itself, will not end the violence.

If an even greater catastrophe than what is now taking place is to be avoided, external intervention is essential. Yet there are many good reasons not to intervene militarily – including the undesirability of doing so again so soon after NATO’s intervention in Libya, which would create the impression that such actions are becoming routine.