This article was originally published on The Atlantic on Tuesday, January 17, 2012.
The most stunning thing about how American foreign policy experts and elites talk about Syria today is the one aspect of the country’s crisis that they won’t discuss. There is little to no actual debate about direct international intervention into an uprising and crackdown that has cost more than 5,000 Syrian lives. In response to the Bashar al-Assad regime’s violence against largely peaceful protesters, which leaves dozens of people dead every day, the international community has denounced Damascus “in the strongest possible terms,” as diplomats like to say, placed the country and its leadership under sanction, and searched for additional punitive measures short of the use of force. Oddly, at the same time that the United States, Europe, and the Arab League have apparently rejected meeting Bashar al-Assad’s violence with violence, there is an assumption in Washington that it is only a matter of time before the Syrian regime falls. It is largely a self-serving hunch that does not necessarily conform to what is actually happening in Syria, but nevertheless provides cover for doing nothing to protect people who are at the mercy of a government intent on using brutality to re-establish its authority. After all, if the many Syrians who have been in open revolt since March of last year are on the verge of bringing down Assad, then, as the conventional wisdom has it, there is no need for a international response and thus no need for an agonizing debate about whether to use force in Syria. But this logic seems less convincing every day, and it might be time to reconsider our assumptions about intervention.
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