Into Syria without Arms

Syria is one of those rare cases in which foreign-policy realists and idealists alike back outside intervention. But intervention need not be armed: there is much more that the world can and should be doing to bring about the removal of Bashar al-Assad's regime.

NEW YORK – Much of the debate over what to do in the Middle East tends to pit realists against idealists. Bahrain is a classic case, as is Saudi Arabia and, for that matter, Egypt: calls for the United States and other countries with interests and influence in the region to stand up for democracy and human rights run up against concerns that national-security interests will suffer if pro-Western authoritarian regimes are ousted. European and US policymakers often attempt to square the circle with a compromise policy that is inconsistent and satisfies no one.

Syria offers a stark contrast to this pattern in the sense that strategic and humanitarian interests are aligned. Many governments have a strategic desire to oust a regime that is closely allied with Iran and Hezbollah. And there is a humanitarian desire to get rid of a regime that has killed as many as 15,000 – if not more – of its own people.

But an armed intervention would be a large undertaking, one requiring not just considerable air power (given Syria’s extensive air-defense network) but also ground forces, given the existence of at least two capable divisions that remain loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The sectarian nature of Syrian society all but guarantees that the presence of troops from other countries would be both prolonged and difficult.

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