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FAQs on MPAC's Stance on Intervention in Syria

September 28, 2013


MPAC's stance to intervene in Syria has not been made lightly and not without intense internal debate. This is not a clean-cut situation, nor one without several side effects - irrespective of what action (or lack of) is taken. Several concerned parties have approached us to better understand why and how we made such a decision. Below are answers to several frequently asked questions and concerns. 

Please share your thoughts and perspectives in the comments section below, or via Twitter or Facebook.

Why are you supporting military strikes?

There are two reasons. First, to reestablish the international norm that no nation uses chemical weapons. Secondly, our view is that only a negotiated solution can end this civil war, and the main barrier to real negotiations is the belief by Assad that he cannot lose. A US strike that seriously hurts his military machine would increase the chances that he will enter into good faith negotiations that have a chance of ending the civil war. Left on its own, this civil war could be like Lebanon or Afghanistan after the Soviet Union left, a war that will go on for a decade leaving massive destruction in its wake. We want the war ended as quickly as possible.

The rebels are composed of terrorists and al-Qaeda. Doesn't a strike against Assad embolden and support the other side?

Not all of the opposition are extremists. The longer we wait to intervene and help bring a political solution to the crisis, the more empowered the extremists will become. Terrorists tend to thrive in conditions of instability and war. Most of the rebels are localized, defending their towns and villages against the government forces.

We are also calling on Saudi Arabia and other countries to stop financing extremists. The Assad regime has had a strategy of painting all of its opponents as Al-Qaeda. This is simply false. Syrians deserve democracy and free elections, we are convinced this will not lead to Al-Qaeda or its sympathizers taking power in Syria.

Why should the international community, and specifically the US, get involved in a proxy-war?

The Syrian revolution started out by the Syrian people raising their voices against a tyrant. Any international support in Syria should be for the Syrian people because the revolution is legitimate so long as it's by the Syrian people and not outside forces. We're calling on outside forces such as Iran and Saudi Arabia to not be involved in a conflict that should be determined by the Syrian people. Their involvement is only causing a rise in sectarian division and violence.

There is plenty of outside involvement in Syria on both sides. Russia and Iran are heavily invested in the current regime and the Russian veto has prevented any meaningful UN response to over 2 years of war and the deaths of 100,000 people. If Russia stopped protecting Assad and allowed the UN to act in its proper role MPAC would support that as the more desirable alternative.

Won't the vacuum that is created by Assad's downfall create an opening for extremists to seize power and create a backlash against Christians and Alawites?

This may be a possibility. The argument from tyrants is that if we don't support them, we are going to allow extremists to take over the country and cause sectarian bloodshed between Muslims, Alawites and Christians. This is why a negotiated solution is best, but this requires Assad to come to the table in good faith and build a new Syria based on freedom for its citizens, equality, and democratic governance.

Shouldn't we be for peace and not begin a war with Syria?

We can't turn our back on a tyrant killing 120,000 of his own people. Just like the world (and President Clinton) regretted turning its back to Rwanda, leading to the genocide of millions of people being killed, so too we cannot turn our back to the Syrian people. There cannot be peace if more Syrian people will be slaughtered as a result of the world remaining on the sidelines. The correct analogy is Bosnia in 1995. 3 years of civil war could not be stopped despite sanctions and UN condemnation. It was only after US airstrikes weakened the Serbs that they came to the negotiating table at Dayton and ended the war.

This conflict is unlike other conflicts within a country (Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosova). It is not secluded, it is not limited to its borders. Assad is backed by Russia, China & Iran. This conflict has escalated to Sunni v Shia; Iran v Saudi Arabia; the West v Russia and China. It has embroiled other powers in the region and can potentially topple the region into chaos. Western intervention, particularly without UN approval, risks extending the conflict well beyond Syria’s borders.

Our priority is ending the war. So far the mere threat of US strikes has resulted in Assad pledging to give up his chemical weapons.

President Obama has argued that we must punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people. If we go in with a surgical strike and the regime survives, is that really punishment? Who’s going to get punished? The people or the regime? What happens on the day we’re done and he crawls out of his hole and declares victory from being overthrown or stopped?

If the results of US action are that Syria never agains uses chemical weapons, and even better surrenders them, that is a meaningful victory for international norms against chemical weapons. The broader question is that enough pressure needs to be applied to the Assad regime to convince them to negotiate an end to this war. At this point they believe they will win militarily as long as Russia shields them at the UN and supplies them enough weapons.

What if we strike and then Assad uses chemical weapons again? Or simply continues his slaughter of civilians using conventional weapons? Are we open to intervening more aggressively? What's the limit of US intervention?

The limits are clear. No ground troops. US involvement should be limited to missile strikes, air power, and the provision of aid to the rebels and training.

Why is the focus of U.S. intervention a military strike rather than diplomacy? Have we truly utilized all diplomatic efforts?

Diplomacy has been tried for over 2 years and we now have a nation where one third are refugees (2 million externally and 5 million internally displaced). All attempts at diplomacy have gone nowhere as the Russians have vetoed every UN SC resolution on Syria and the Assad regime has refused to negotiate a new democratic future for Syria. Assad does not recognize the rebels as legitimate and considers them all terrorists.

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