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The West are best placed to intervene in Syria

There is still hope, but only if the West can deal with the ghosts of its past

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As President Obama pledges that the United States will provide military aid to the 'Syrian Opposition' in its ongoing battle against Bashar al Assad, the question we currently face is not "should we intervene in Syria?" but rather, "what is the best method in which to do so?"

Why did it take so long to come to such a decision? For the most part, late involvement was heavily reflective of the change in the perception of 'intervention' within political discourse.

On one side of the spectrum we have the 'Kosovo' example - a largely successful intervention led by Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, precipitated on a doctrine of moral and civic responsibility within an international community. On the other side, we have the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan; while under similar ideological auspices, these both ultimately failed in bringing about the desired humanitarian and political changes.

The hesitance of the United States therefore represents a recalibration of the notions of humanitarian intervention. Indeed, this was the case when Obama laid out the conditions of such procedures; the so called 'red line', whereby external involvement would depend on whether any side had broken the proper 'conduct' of civil war.

Far from Blair's rationale concerning human casualties and vulnerabilities, or Bush's rhetoric on liberation, the current administration defines its responsibilities purely in light of the conduct of war. While appearing distant to his predecessor, Obama cannot escape the fact that since 2011, over 93,000 people have died, many who were innocent civilians and children.

With evidence that chemical gas has been used, the West must once again confront possible scenarios of intervention. On the one hand is the moral case; with an unprecedented number of fatalities in any recent civil war, the human costs of combat will be evident in Syria for generations. This might be negated in the opposition were succeeding.

However, as pro-Assad forces capture key cities like Qusair and intensify their attacks in Homs and Hama, the disorganised, conflicting Opposition look unlikely to pose a real challenge. Further, through access to weapons from neighbouring countries sympathetic to the government, it is not entirely unlikely that Assad may emerge more draconian and vengeful.

So long as the war continues, not only will there be more fatalities, but the risk that a post-war Syria may find itself a failed state, ridden with poverty and destitution.

Though this might stand, the real problems lie in practice. Understandably, there are fears that arming the rebels will run the risk of repeating the 70's, arming rebel fighters associated with global Jihadist groups. At the same time, there have also been voices of concern suggesting that Syria should not become the playing field in which the West conducts a proxy war. And while these arguments must be considered, we should look beyond a parochial analysis of cynical geopolitical interests.

For Syria's war is not simply an internal matter. In fact, its longevity has much to do with the influence of neighbouring forces, especially Iran and Russia. In providing arms and resources to Assad's men, they also hope to exploit the chaos in order to assert their influence, even at the expense of more innocent lives.
To such entities, bloodshed does not represent the regrettable scars of war, but rather a sacrifice necessary to attain hegemony over the region. It is these efforts that are the most harrowing of all, for they reduce the civil war to a game of chess, in which the winning side eventually calls the shots. Regardless of the outcome, the large majority of Syrian people will be without a voice or adequate representation.

There is still hope, but only if the West can deal with the ghosts of its past. Limited intervention that operates as a security buffer, providing a capacity in which both pro and anti government forces can negotiate remains the most effective path to attaining some form of peace.

The advantages of this approach, sometimes referred to as the "light footprint", lies in that rather than overtly forcing regime change through aggressive, monolithic doctrines, it places more emphasis in providing channels in which post-war social transitions may be more easily achieved.

Though arming rebel groups may deliver some benefits, it is likely they will be short lived. After all, history has shown that more often than not, the most turbulent parts of any conflict take place in the bleak aftermath of combat. Surely if we wish to see Syria rebuild and thrive, we should ensure that it is provided the infrastructure and the safeguards in which to do so.

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