Not that morality and national interests are contradictory and mutually exclusive, but morality is never prioritized over national interests in affairs of state. While it is understandable that the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is expressing full disappointment for a lack of a firm decision even after the meeting of NATO foreign ministers on April 23, the oppositions' unwavering stand in refusing to sit at the negotiation table with the Assad regime may also be found morally questionable. The issue is not how murderous Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is. The world is well aware of what he is capable of doing to his own people. The issue is that no one with a sound mind can actually guarantee that a foreign military intervention in Syria will resolve the crisis and end the bloodshed. The gravity of the crisis is way more complicated than a black-and-white approach in appealing for a foreign military intervention.
It is about time for the SNC to comprehend that their priorities do not correspond to the international community’s perception of where their interests lie. And for serious thinkers, it must also be a given that this is not the time to blame outsiders, but to get real in thinking how to exit from this crisis without losing more lives. When Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the SNC, addressed the Arab League members, he claimed more than 100,000 Syrians were killed. If the priority is to work for the moral upper hand and focus on saving lives, considering a diplomatic and political deal under the auspices of the United States and Russia may not be the world’s worst bet, but for the SNC that seems to be the case.
“According to news sources at the NATO Foreign Ministers Conference [April 23] in Brussels, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov met and seemed to share similar views regarding the Syrian crisis,” the Syrian Coalition’s written statement read on April 24. “Therefore, any solutions must take into account the demands of the Syrian people, which include freedom from tyranny, and most importantly, the departure of Assad.”
On April 24, in a separate statement, the SNC, however, also expressed full disappointment as the meeting of the NATO foreign ministers concluded without a firm decision that will hint to a military intervention in Syria. “NATO has stated that it will only monitor the activity of Scud missiles being launched from the Assad camps near Damascus to neighboring towns and villages to the north. NATO’s radars will ensure that those missiles fall within the borders of Syria. However, the fact that these missiles will fall over the heads of innocent civilians and children seems to be of no concern to NATO, even though NATO has the forces and preventive tools to stop these missiles,” the statement read. “The SNC finds it tragic that NATO has the power to stop further loss of life in Syria, but chooses not to take that course of action.”
A NATO source speaking on condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor: “We don’t believe there is a military solution to this crisis. We prefer a comprehensive approach.” He went on to explain the competing interests of the big powers starting with the French, who do not want to pay a price with Lebanese interests. “Germans have made it very clear that they won’t approve any NATO intervention in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution, and the Russian position is unlikely to change on that issue. There may be a coalition of like-minded countries led by the United States and the United Kingdom. Turkey may be asked to play a larger role, but they don’t seem to show willingness to engage militarily.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, expressed the alliance’s full commitment to protect Turkey in case of a potential spillover of this conflict into its territories. NATO has already deployed Patriot missiles in Turkey to enhance its security needs. “We’re making all kinds of brainstorming, and preparations for various scenarios,” this NATO source said. “But we don’t expect Assad to intentionally fire on Turkey.”
“We believe Assad has used a 25% variety of its missiles stock, which is to our estimates something around 250 missiles,” the same NATO source told Al-Monitor. “We also believe he has another 350-400 usable missiles in his stock. Whatever is remaining in his stocks — may not be so reliable.”
As Kerry has asked NATO to study what it can do in case of a chemical weapon attack, NATO sources say that they are closely monitoring the situation, and that it is the most challenging aspect in dealing with this crisis. On April 23, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, the head of the research division at the Israeli Military Intelligence, claimed that the Assad regime used sarin-based chemical weapons. While Washington did not confirm the allegation, Shimon Shiffer, a columnist for Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily, had this to say: “Americans are not willing for Israel to declare when they will send US soldiers to Syria … they are not looking for proof (of chemical weapons use), and they prefer to decide for themselves when the conditions are right to intervene. The lesson that can be learned from this incident is that also with the heavier issue on the agenda — the Iranian race for nuclear arms — the US won’t let anyone push it into intervening.”
On April 25, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, however, confirmed that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons. While the US administration said before that usage of chemical weapons will be considered a red line, it is now for anyone's guess as to how these red lines could become flexible.
Not to separate from the Iranian role in the Syrian theater, this NATO source told Al-Monitor that they have a perception that the role of the Iranians has been exaggerated. “Depending on different intelligence reports, there is somewhere between 3,000 to 15,000 Pasdarans (Iranian Revolutionjary Guards) in Syria,” the NATO source said. “But if and when we decide to intervene, no one even takes this as a serious challenge, or consider Iran directly engaging in a fight with NATO forces.”
Last but not the least, Assad is certainly playing to the fears of the West when it comes to the opposition being dominated by radicals and extremists. “As Islamists increasingly fill the ranks of Syrian rebels, Assad is waging an energized campaign to persuade the United States that it is on the wrong side of the civil war,” the New York Times reported on April 25. The fact is that though it is not that the US will side with Assad, but it will watch out for its best interest in ending this crisis. And it is only natural for states to watch out for their best interests first. The SNC may also take the same approach and get their priorities in order. In any case, even after a politically negotiated settlement, Assad will be significantly weakened and will not sustain its status forever. Hopefully, people will end up prioritizing saving lives over ousting Assad from power as a condition for diplomatic and political negotiations to end this two-year bloody uprising.
Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years.
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