Can the West intervene in Syria?

These days, the word ‘intervention’ occupies one of the darkest realms of our conciousness, particularly in relation to the Middle East. Indeed, its tainted legacy, in both Iraq and Afghanistan has reduced intervention either as an action destined to fail, or worse, an ugly form of pseudo-imperialism, designed ultimately to reassert brutal hegemonic structures of power.

In our own age, we have also haunted by a future repetitive of the late 1980s, whereby intervention through the means of directly arming rebel groups, may in turn give rise to hard line, militant Islamists. As we have been warned- by both Arab and Western media outlets, walking down the road of military intervention, in whatever capacity, is too dangerous to bear the risks.

Despite such fears, I feel that the way in which we conceptualise ‘intervention’ is heavily misconstrued, in such a way that we immediately associate the notion with the darkest parts of recent history.

Yet, on the current stage of international diplomacy, the western world finds itself in a precarious poisition, whereby they must reconcile the rights of sovereignty whilst maintaining an ethical foundation built upon principles of human rights and liberties. In the case of Syria, this does not simply relate to the toppling of the Assad regime, or the removal of the ruling family.

Indeed, while the arming of rebels, or a direct NATO intervention may be successful in removing Assad, what will soon be found is that the lack of any coherent oppositional force to allow a transfer of governance will provide the capacity for rampant civil war. And while I certainly agree that direct military intervention, particularly on a ground level, is likely to provide further impetus for perpetuating such tensions, the philosophical basis on which the western world conducts its diplomacy should not be forsaken out of ease or fear.

The West, and in particular the United States, should therefore be pro-active in forging the conditions to which Syrian society can not only resolve violence, but also witness the political change so many have died for.

In this case, the west should be more strategic in it’s non-military attacks; As Michael Ignatieff wrote in the Financial Times earlier this year, a comprehensive ‘quarantine’ of Syria by the international community, that would reduce Assad to a perennial outsider on the global stage.

Furthermore, sanctions on commerce that hit the Syrian elite, oddly aloof to the conflict, would also be substantial in weakening the societal foundations Assad so depends on. Finally, however, is that if intervention does take place, it must do so in a way that is removed of political posturing; in this case, the west should not be afraid to work with the Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey as well as the recently established key player, Mr. Mursi of Egypt.

Through a proactive engagement in multilateral diplomacy within the region, the western world will have the capabilities not only help to remove the neo-imperialist stigma of the past, but they may also find success in moulding a new model of humanitarian intervention removed of romantic politics. To establish an established peace in Syria, our age must fundamentally rethink its conceptualisations of intervention in international affairs.

While maintaining the amiable goals of securing individual rights and security, the west should also consider reconstructing the means to secure these aims through more non-militaristic approaches, through means of targeted sanctions and diplomatic negotiation.Further, they should also be more open to working with key players within the region to ensure that these principles are placed at the forefront of humanitarian ambitions. In this way, ‘intervention’ can therefore be redesigned as a means to assert humanitarian aims reached through diplomatic consensus.

Ultimately, this approach is the most likely to curb a prospective surge in civil violence once Assad’s palace collapses, but it would also do well in repairing relations between the West and the Arab world.



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