Rice Rattles Sabres

This tweet is a strong indicator that military action is being threatened. This is US National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Very interesting developments today:

Syria has given the green light to UN inspectors, Iran says.

The UK and the US seem to both be on board with escalating the conflict:

David Cameron and Barack Obama moved the west closer to military intervention in Syria on Saturday as they agreed that last week’s alleged chemical weapon attacks by the Assad regime had taken the crisis into a new phase that merited a “serious response”.

In a phone call that lasted 40 minutes, the two leaders are understood to have concluded that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was almost certainly responsible for the assault that is believed to have killed as many as 1,400 people in Damascus in the middle of last week.

Iran as well as Russia — Syria’s strongest allies — are supporting inspections as well. So Assad’s support seems to be crumbling. Also, it’s a matter of time before we get confirmation of what by now seems almost certain, that this was a sarin attack:

Biological samples taken from victims of the attack have been passed to western officials in Jordan after having been smuggled out of Syria over the past 72 hours. Questionnaires have been distributed to officials in the three most affected communities, asking for scientific and environmental details, as well as for organ tissue and clothing worn by victims.

Meanwhile, the US has increased the strength of its Mediterranean flotilla with a missile destroyer, in preparation for cruise missile strikes, presumably.

I still maintain that this looks like a correct course of action. There needs to be serious consensus in the international community for intervention, and a strong case made against the Assad regime. But the case for intervention is getting stronger. The past two years have shown a divided and weak response to the blatant crimes against humanity of the Syrian civil war. Maybe the latest atrocities will have generated some form of consensus at last.

Fareed Zakaria made the opposing case in June in this video:

I usually disagree with Zakaria’s opinions, but I actually think he is making a lot of sense here. The case for caution — also made by The Guardian this morning — is strong. The weak spot in his argument is that he thinks the US shouldn’t get involved in Syria because Syria is Iraq, apparently. Even though it quite manifestly is not.

But the idea that the international community might not be able to stop a massacre of the Alawites is a good point. Andrew Sullivan also had roughly the same line of argument in a series of posts worth reading, but he also argued that the international community shouldn’t intervene because the Sunni are crazy radical muslims (I paraphrase).

The trouble is that the Alawite leading families are busy killing off the Sunni right now. And whatever you think about Sunni religion and the radical islamist forces fighting on their side, civilians have a right not to be killed by their government. They have a right not to be shelled and not to be gassed to death. And the international community has permitted those atrocities happening. Whatever you think about the R2P paradigm it remains true that the international community has a responsibility to protect civilians. An intervention now, beyond an air campaign and support for the rebels, would have to involve a very big international peacekeeping force, maybe modeled after the Post-Yugoslavian forces, which have held that fractious region together and kept it from collapsing (though the political problems persist, they remain political).

But whatever happens, it remains true that this is an ugly situation that seems unlikely to be easily resolved.

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