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The Scoop
November 30, 2011

As Turkey says it’s ready for “any scenario” in Syria, oppositionists make the case for intervention

by
Hannah Stuart

Turkey does not want military intervention in Syria, but as President Assad’s regime continues it brutal crackdown on protestors Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced his country is ready for “any scenario”.

Turkish newspapers are reporting Davutoglu’s speech on Tuesday, where he also said the international community may want to consider a buffer zone in Syria if the numbers of refugees and internally displaced people continue to rise.

“If the oppression continues, Turkey is ready for any scenario. We hope that a military intervention will never be necessary. The Syrian regime has to find a way of making peace with its own people,” Davutoglu told Kanal 24 TV. He later backtracked slightly, stating a buffer zone was not on “today’s agenda”.

Davutoglu’s words may be the first time an international statesman has suggested military intervention in any meaningful way, and they come as some members of the increasingly fractious opposition movements are beginning to support the idea.

No to foreign intervention was previously a keystone in the Syrian opposition’s platform, but US-based opposition spokesman Ammar Abdulhamid is just one example of a radical change in thinking. From strenuously objecting to any form of intervention he  spoke recently a conference “Departures in the Arab World: Developments and Prospects,” organised by the German Green Party in Berlin, where he advocated, what he calls, “the need for NATO-supported intervention in Syria as the only way to prevent descent into nation-wide civil war and manage a transition towards a democratic form of governance in which minority rights are protected.”

Here is what he has to say – whether you agree or disagree with intervention on principle, it’s worth reading:

I argued that the situation in the country has deteriorated to the level where purist stand on this issue is no longer tenable, and that the Assads have succeeded in imposing the logic of violence on all. The inability of world leaders to enunciate a stronger position on developments in a timely manner have paved the way to this, I argued, and if the same leaders continue to dither, they will be morally responsible for the bloodbaths that will take place. Intervention will be costly in human and material terms, I know, but the cost of civil war will be higher.

The counterargument to this was made by Muriel Asseburg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. While agreeing with me on my assessment of the situation, Dr. Asseburg saw that my call for the creation of safe havens and supporting the Free Syrian Army will lead to an increased militarization of the situation, a development that will have dire consequence for Syria’s minority groups who, she believes, will be signaled out for revenge. On the surface of it, the argument seems to make sense. But in reality, it’s pretty naïve.

For you see, we are indeed heading towards further militarization, and since most of the defectors tend to be Sunnis, and most loyalists Alawites, whatever clash will take place is bound to acquire a confessional coloring. Let’s not forget here that both loyalists and defectors are graduates from the most sectarian institution in the country: the military. The loyalists are already acquiring weapons and logistical support from Russia, Iran and elsewhere, and defectors will soon begin to acquire them from Gulf states, directly or tacitly. They will never reach parity, but their numbers and determination will make up the difference. And defectors will be beholden to those who supplies them with weapons, and the political opposition and NATO will have little influence over the process and therefore little ability to establish limits and impose rules. But when NATO takes the lead here, acting through a regional alliance and through an established political opposition coalition, pragmatic and savvy enough to establish a working relation with the FSA and their military council, then NATO and the political opposition will have some measure of control over developments and might be able to establishment some rules for the ensuing engagement that can protect civilians and minority groups from revenge. Through involvement, one can induce the desired trends by introducing a system of rewards and incentives. The task will be a complex one for sure, but with NATO on the sidelines it will be on impossible one. In short, whoever provides support to the FSA will be able to influence their agenda and tactics. For the only way I know of to retain some influence over paramilitary groups is to support them thus introducing an element of indebtedness and dependence into the mix. The relationship will have to go both ways of course, and that is very problematic indeed, it is also the nature of the beast. There is no substitute for vigilance in these circumstances. 

It is for this reason that I advised the SNC and other opposition groups to engage and recognize the Free Syrian Army, warning that failure to do so will push Riyad Al-Ass’aad and colleagues to go their own way and establish their own council, especially considering their popularity and credibility in the streets. Instead, my colleagues in the opposition dismissed Col. Al-Ass’aad and colleagues as “simpletons” who fail to comprehend the political realities of the world. Post-independence politicians made the same mistake, and paved the way for 50 years of life under military rule. For these “simpletons” only appear so in the academic sense, but as far as the ways of the world are concerned, they are far more savvy than we give them credit, and what they lack in savviness they can compensate for in brute force. More importantly, they remain far closer to the grassroots than any of us.  And it’s already showing.

The situation on the ground in Syria begs for credible proactive and pragmatic leadership on part of the opposition and the international community, if we are to prevent a major humanitarian crisis from taking place.

Those who don’t want blood on their hand should understand that every choice they make today, even that of silence, will result in blood being shed, and there is no telling which choice will result in more or less bloodshed, and which choice is the ethical one. Personally, I can only tell you at this stage which choice has the better chance of seeing this revolution achieves its main goal of toppling the regime: it is the choice that embraces a NATO-supported intervention. Then stars are not aligned that way at this stage, I know. But it’s our job to get them there, rather than brood over it

Ammar’s blog can be read here

Hannah Stuart

About Hannah Stuart

Hannah Stuart is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and has authored reports on extremism, terrorism and jihadist ideology as well as religious law and the role of religion in the public sphere. Hannah has a strong research record and her work has informed UK government policy. She gave testimony to the UK Home Affairs Select Committee on radicalisation. She has written analysis for the Wall Street Journal, The Times, Foreign Policy, Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, and the Guardian, among others. Hannah has a MA in International Studies and Diplomacy (with Distinction) from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a BA in English Literature from the University of Bristol.

Full profile  |  See all of Hannah Stuart's work