What to do with a country called Syria?

Once again the screams of the Syrian people have fallen on deaf ears.  The world powers seem so entrenched in diplomatic arrest that no amount of footage of gassed children will shake them from their slumber.

France has seemingly made the strongest overture toward realistic threats of a military response – though if it were just the French to take up arms, I don’t think Assad would be particularly worried.

Yet, the question of course must be asked, what options does the international community actually have open?

Conflict resolution has historically dictated three possibilities.  First, is to do nothing.  Sit back, drink some tea, maybe make some form of public condemnations, appeal for calm, but ultimately let the slaughter continue until there is a winner and then arrive on an airplane, stern faced and invest in rebuilding efforts.  I hope I have managed to depict this option as morally repugnant and ethically bankrupt as it is.

Second option on the table is to pick a side.  The West has done this on several occasions, Libya perhaps most recently.  This strategy carries several major risks – misreading facts on the ground and either backing the losing side, or the side which does not in fact share the West’s values. Perhaps even more dangerously, were the US for example to take up arms alongside the rebel forces in Syria, it is not beyond comprehension that Russia would back Assad.  The result, World War Three.

So that brings us to the third option, divide and conquer.  Typically in the past, when the global powers have due to desire or chance, found themselves engulfed in the local affairs of what was once the colonies, they have chosen to divide the territories and impose rulers.  The positives are more immediate calm, and a shared sense of achievement for all sides – each side end up either with a new political leadership, or ensure their survival, whatever it is they may have been supposedly fighting for.  The negatives are that this is overly simplistic and nearly always means the installation of fabricated borders which inevitably lead to further conflict within a generation.

The results of this strategy include tribal wars and genocide in Africa, the Israeli-Arab conflict, and indeed the current mess in Syria to which the world’s leaders now seek a solution.

There have been many with a tendency to see the situation in Syria to be an extension of the troubles in Egypt or vice versa.  This is not truley accurate.

Aside from the vast difference in the actual clashes and kind of attacks there have been, the background to the situation in Egypt is not at all the same.  Syria is a collection of tribes, ruled until now by the minority Alawites, and as such is almost an ethnic conflict.  Egypt on the other hand is experiencing an ideological struggle within one nation.  Egyptians are proudly Egyptian, not African, nor Arab, but Egyptian.  The bloodshed and turmoil now turning the Nile red is not a tribal war, but a dispute between supporters of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the more secular democratic groups.  The problem for the West is that when the dictator in question, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown, the democratic elections led to the installation of the Islamist parties into power.  Their short comings and oppressive religious rulings however brought about a military coup, another popular uprising, the possible release of the imprisoned (and supposedly terminally ill) Mubarak, and the rather widespread clashes in which hundreds have died.

So again, the West has a dilemma – back democratically elected extremists or support unelected ‘secular liberals’. Moreover, to pick a side would ignite the whole region – destabilizing countries across the Middle East and Africa.

It must be time then for the international powers to think outside the box, and implement a solution to Syria especially.  Let’s just hope they do it soon.

About the Author
Jason Pearlman is a strategic consultant and media advisor specializing in communications and campaigns.