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Too Little, Too Late for Syria

Eric Rivero |
August 19, 2013 | 10:00 p.m. PDT


Help in Syria might be too little, too late.(Voice of America News, Wikimedia Commons)
Help in Syria might be too little, too late.(Voice of America News, Wikimedia Commons)
Nearly two and a half years have passed since the beginning of what the UN has deemed the worst humanitarian disaster since Rwanda with over 100,000 dead and an estimated 3 million refugees. The ongoing struggle between loyalists to the Assad regime and rebels seeking to oust it, remains a grim and heinous example of crimes against humanity and an ominous threat to stability in the region.

The situation has become so dire that the UN has launched a record appeal calling for $5.2 billion in aid to fund operations both inside Syria and neighboring countries for this year alone. Of this total budget only $1.4 billion has thus far been pledged, the US remaining Syria’s single largest benefactor committing $250 million to non-lethal aid in addition to $815 million for humanitarian assistance in supporting rebel forces fighting Assad’s military. Yet despite this increase in commitment by the West and growing attention for foreign intervention by the international community, Syria has become for many simply a case of too little too late. Between the 100,000 casualties, 3 million refugees, and a country left in ruins, the issue of Syria’s future appears grim at best.

Al-Qaeda’s growing influence in the region has also lead many to question whether Syria will be capable of adopting democratic values post-Assad. Clashes between the Free Syrian Army and Al-Qaeda have been constant. Last month forces from Al-Qaeda killed Syrian commander Kamal Hamami and rebels reacted by stating the assassination was tantamount to a declaration of war.

Some US officials are now skeptical of The Obama administration’s decision to send weapons into the region with the opposition’s growing instability. The decision to arm rebels forces came in June after the US concluded the Syrian government had crossed Obama’s “red line”, using chemical weapons against its citizens. Still many experts believe that the US’s involvement this late in the conflict will do little in a struggle that is appears to be turning largely in Assad’s favor and question whether arming rebels will only prolong fighting and contribute to further civilian casualties.

In a meeting with US Republican Senator John McCain, Salim Idriss leader of FSA’s Supreme Military Council, asked the U.S. to supply insurgent groups with heavy weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and set up a no fly zone. However, when asked about weapon packages sent to rebels, Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence committee stated that they would not provide the force needed to “tilt the battlefield” in the rebel’s favor. Weapons and ammunition now being supplied to rebels are simply both insufficient in power and quantity.

As for a no-fly zone General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated that initiating a no fly zone would cost $500 million and as much as a billion dollars a month to maintain, making it unlikely that the US will proceed with the opposition’s request. To exasperate matters Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah has vowed to support the Syrian government, sending thousands of soldiers to fight along side them, helping recapture strategic points such as the cities of Al-Qusayr and Homs, once under rebel control. Iran also a close ally to Syria has also vowed to continue its military support, most recently by newly elected president Hassan Rouhani who stated that no force will shake their alliance. Iranian weapons have been pouring into Syria throughout the conflict in direct violation of the UN’s arms embargo on Iran. Last month Iranian officials decided to send 4000 troops into the country.

Of foreign powers seeking a resolution to the conflict the United States and Russia’s rolls now remain critical in pursuing peace negotiations despite a contrary and fractioned stance. Russia, now Assad’s strongest ally, remains adamant in sustaining its support for the government, insisting that the weapons they’re supplying are merely fulfilling pre-established arms deals. The United States condemns these actions and endures firm in its position that Assad must go. Syria, having maintained good relations with Russia for decades, has been receiving substantial military support including MI-25 helicopter gunships, the Buk-M2 air defense system, the Bastion anti-ship missile systems, and Yak 130 combat jets. Some estimates put 10 percent of Russia’s global arm sales going to Syria with current contracts worth up to $1.5b billion.

Yet despite growing tension and disagreement between the US and Russia, more recently fueled by Moscow’s housing of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, what officials from both countries do consistently agree on is the need to facilitate peace negotiations between the Syrian government and the Syrian National Coalition. However, scheduled dates for peace talks, now being referred to as Geneva 2, have been consistently postponed throughout the last few months due to dispute between rebel groups and representatives as well as rebel adamancy in only pursuing peace negotiations in so as preconditions include a replacement transitional government in which Assad is excluded. This notion is conceived by many as intangible, Assad himself asserting to remain in power until the 2014 elections in which he claims he will run yet again. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister recently told reporters that his administration had gained the agreement of the Syrian government to send delegation to Geneva without precondition while US Secretary of State John Kerry assured Lavrov that the US would persuade the opposition to do the same. Kerry also stated that peace talks will likely not happen until September, at the earliest, potentially prolonging already disastrous outcome of the two year civil war.


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