The cover of the current issue of The Economist (March 13, 2013) is entitled “Syria, the Death of a Country” citing the death of over 70,000 people and displacement of 5,000 people per day. The article concludes with the recommendation that the Western nations should take such actions as needed to assuage the brutalization of the Syrian population. We strongly agree.
The actions proposed by Britain and France are to ease the arms embargo to permit more weapons to reach the various factions rebelling against the regime of Bashar Al Assad. This proposal had the endorsement of Leon Panetta, General Martin Dempsey and even Hillary Clinton but was vetoed by President Obama. Apparently, he will take no action that could jeopardize his political objectives.
Although more light weapons would help the Syrian rebels, it would do little to affect the devastation caused by the Syrian Air Force. Proposals to send shoulder fired missiles to the rebels have been opposed because of fear that some would likely fall into the hands of jihadists who could use them against civilian airliners. This scenario is not far- fetched.
The apparent answer would be to establish a no-fly zone as was done with great effect both in Iraq and Libya. In both cases, the first objective of U.S. and allied air forces was to take out the air defense infrastructure. Although the Syrian air defense system has benefited from sophisticated Russian equipment and expertise, there is little doubt that they could be destroyed by a “shock and awe” attack.
One proposal to escalate pressure on the Syrian Air Force would begin by stationing an international carrier group (presumably including the US and some allies) off its small Syrian Mediterranean coastline. Syrian ex-pats have suggested the simple presence of these forces would accelerate defections. This could be followed by cruise missile attacks on the air force infrastructure, including aircraft, hangars and supply depots. These could not easily be replaced, and would disrupt the major weapon of killing and damage created by the Assad regime. It would be applauded by all of the rebel factions excepting Hezbollah and its Iranian and Russians backers who stand to lose influence if their client state falls.
Of course, any attack on another nation without at least the cover of a UN resolution, as used in the Korean conflict, would be decried by internationalists as a violation of the sacred concept of national sovereignty. We suggest the Assad regime, and those of other dictatorships such as North Korea, lose their sovereignty when they remain in power only through terrorizing their own people. Legalistic cover when used to perpetuate such brutalization is inherently immoral.
Everyone recognizes that the Syrian situation is extremely complex, from a legal and geopolitical view involving Iran and Russia as the principal supporters of the Assad regime. Any actions taken, such as proposed above, will have unforeseen consequences, both good and bad. However, the present situation is intolerable, and the US, and a few of its allies, has it in their power to help the people of Syria. It is the right thing to do.