Friday, 25 September 2015
The cost of inaction
I don't think everything hits the bullseye in this Economist editorial, though it has most major points right. There is still a Free Syrian Army, and a lot of support for moderation and secularism, just not a lot of identification with the West. And it isn't possible to ignore now the contribution of jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to the fight against Assad, the only way to keep Syrians wanting a more moderate and secular future is to be better at supporting their struggle than the extremists, not to suggest they are the same threat to Syrians as Assad or even ISIS.
'Most civilians are being killed by Mr Assad’s forces, and most refugees are fleeing his bombs. Backing Mr Assad, or acquiescing in the survival of his regime, would only push more Sunnis into the arms of the jihadists. If IS is the ugliest face of Sunni Arabs’ sense of disenfranchisement, Mr Assad is the worst embodiment of their nightmare. Russia’s intervention may yet help bring about [a diplomatic deal under which Mr Assad would surrender power]. More probably, it will embolden Mr Assad to cling to power; and keep fighting a war he cannot win but that will do more damage to the country, and the region.
If America put a stop to the barrel bombs, its standing among Syrians would immediately improve. Dependence on outside support would also increase the prospect of the West exerting some influence over rebel behaviour, and avoid the dark possibility of Sunni atrocities against defeated Alawites, Christians and other minorities.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is Mr Obama himself. Right now his legacy will record not just sensible rapprochement with Iran and Cuba, but also the consolidation of a jihadist caliphate and countless boat-people. He may worry about the risks of American action and “owning” the Syrian crisis. But the greater risk is standing aside and disowning the Middle East.'